The texts which follow were written by various officers in the ships whose actions Kipling described. They were all published in late 1920 or thereabouts, and the authors were unidentified. However, an intelligent guess can be made as to their identity.
As stated in the notes on Kipling’s text, these were HM Ships Nestor, Nomad and Nicator. This first account comes from HMS Nicator. The author was almost certainly her First Lieutenant, Lieutenant M.A. Brind, Royal Navy.
[In Sea Warfare Kipling’s account is on pp. 154-156]
When I arrived on the bridge about 3.30 p.m., the battle cruisers were forming in single line ahead and had increased to full speed, and as we were at the tail of the line, we had to go “all out” to take up our screening position ahead. One thought at first that it was rather unkind to make us proceed up the engaged side of the battle cruisers to take up our station, as it was quite clear that as soon as the first shots were fired at extreme range we should stand a very good chance of being hit by any shots falling short. And we weren’t kept very long in suspense, because the enemy soon opened fire, but right from the start there seemed to be a remarkable lack of shorts, nearly all shots appearing to either straddle or hit …
… practically before the action seemed to have started the Indefatigable blew up just as we passed her – not a very cheering commencement. We had now got about half-way up the line, going just over thirty knots, and both lines of battle cruisers were firing at each other as rapidly as possible, but our ships were being straddled and hit much too often for anyone to be too happy about it.
We had just got abreast of the Princess Royal, the second ship of the line when the Queen Mary, her next astern which we had passed a few minutes before, had her first explosion, and shortly afterwards completely blew up and was enveloped in a huge cloud of smoke and flame. (Whether this statement is correct as to the two explosions, I do not know, but so it seemed.) When the smoke cleared there was nothing left to be seen, and for some time everyone on board the Nicator seemed quite stunned with horror at the suddenness of the thing and at the turn which the action seemed to have taken. By this time we were abreast the Lion which was firing very steadily, and seemed to inspire confidence somehow in spite of the number of times she appeared to be straddled. Suddenly a huge burst of flame shot up from her, amidships, and for one ghastly moment we thought that she had gone the way of the Queen Mary and Indefatigable. However, as soon as the smoke cleared away, we saw all the Lion’s remaining turrets fire together, and everyone on board us burst into a cheer.
Then we noticed a signal to the Champion (Ship of Captain (D), 13th Flotilla) flying from the Lion ordering the 13th Flotilla to attack, and very shortly afterwards the Champion hoisted the signal for the 2nd Division to deliver an attack on the enemy battle cruisers. The 2nd division ordinarily consisted of the Nestor, Onslow, Nomad and Nicator, but early on in the day Onslow had been detached to screen the seaplane carrier Engadine, so that there only remained Nestor, Nomad and Nicator in the division. We started our attack in that order at about (?) 4.30 p.m.
We led out from the head of our battle cruiser line steering a south-south-easterly course (the course of the two battle cruisers’ lines being approximately south) at a speed of 34 knots, but shortly after the attack started Nomad commenced to drop behind and told us to take station ahead of her, as she could not maintain the pace.
Almost simultaneously with our attack we saw enemy destroyers coming out from the head of the German line, either to deliver a counter attack or else to beat off our attack. When we had reached a position on the enemy’s bow we turned on to our attacking course, roughly north-east and fired our first torpedo at about 9,000 to 10,000 yards range. We were in excellent position and the torpedo, for as far as we could see its track, ran straight and doubtless at least crossed the enemy’s line. By this time we were within gun range of the enemy destroyers, of which we could count at least eight. They were approaching at about 30 knots, two to three points off our starboard bow [22½° – 34°], and the rate at which we were closing each other was about 1,000 yards per minute, so that it was not long before we went into “rapid independent”, our maximum rate of fire, and scored a gratifying number of hits. When at about 1,000 yards’ range from us the German destroyers turned on to a south-westerly course, a practically parallel and opposite course to ours, and slightly closing.
We noticed that two of them did not turn with the others but remained stopped, one with a distinct list to starboard, whilst the firing of the remainder although very rapid was very wild, and we were not hit at all. They were now passing us at full speed at almost point-blank range, so that we were allowing the maximum deflection on the gun-sughts – 60 knots right. This did not last long, as they were soon past us, and they turned to rejoin their battle cruisers, being engaged as they did so by the next division of our flotilla, which were following us up astern; but the Germans had left behind three of their destroyers, the crew of one of which were already taking to the boats. [There is a footnote: “Probably only two German destroyers were actually sunk as a result of this fighting”.] The Nomad astern of us was unfortunately disabled by a hit in her engine-room, and we had to leave her.
An unfortunate accident happened to our second torpedo, for when fired it hung up half out of the tube and broke at the joint between the head and the body, the top body screws breaking but the bottom ones holding, so that the business end, with all the explosive in it, was dangling over the side. I have vivid recollections of the tubes’ crew gingerly trying to bear the head off with a boat-hook as it bumped against the side with each roll of the ship. Luckily it soon parted and fell off, again luckily just clearing the starboard propeller. Altogether a most unfortunate incident!
All this time we were under an unpleasantly hot fire from the German battle cruisers’ secondary armament, and it seemed nothing short of a miracle that we escaped being hit. I put it down unhesitatingly to the way in which the Captain handled the ship, and I think everyone else on board thought that too. His idea was, and it undoubtedly saved us, to chase each salvo – that it to say, when a salvo fell short, he would alter course towards it, so that after the Germans had applied an “up” spotting correction and fired another salvo, instead of hitting us it would go over. Then we would alter to port towards where that salvo fell, and so on. Luckily we had a reserve of speed over Nestor, our next ahead, so we were able to do this salvo dodging without dropping astern of station to any appreciable extent. Throughout the whole action the Captain was leaning coolly against the front of the bridge, smoking his pipe, and giving his orders to the helmsman.
By this time the German battle cruisers had turned 16 points to port [that is, 180° although the gyro compass and the 360° convention had appeared in 1911, the navy still thought, and steered, in compass points, each point 11¼° – this changed shortly after Jutland: Ed.]. At the time we vaguely thought it was to prevent further attacks from the other divisions following up astern, but we soon realised that it was because they had effected a junction with their battle fleet, so as soon as it was seen that it was no use carrying on and chasing the enemy battle cruisers from astern, Nestor turned back to the west and prepared to rejoin our line.
On the way back we passed Nomad, stopped and apparently helpless, and we asked if we could offer us any assistance but she told us to go on. Now ir was for the first time that I realised that the German battle cruisers had come into touch with their battle fleet, because sighting a line of battleships on our port bow, I exclaimed to the captain, “Now we’re all right, here is the 5th Battle Squadron.” [The 5th B.S., consisting of four ‘fast battleships’ of the Queen Elizabeth class, was a part of Beatty’s Battle Cruiser Fleet: Ed.].
But the moment of elation did not last long because a closer inspection showed that they were undoubtedly German, and what was more, Nestor was converging to attack them.
Very soon we were again in the thick of a perfectly hair-raising bombardment from their secondary armament. We were engaging a light cruiser at the head of the line with all our guns, the range on the sights being 3,000 yards – Nestor was apparently going to make quite certain of his attack. At this moment, just as our sights were coming on an enemy battleship for our last torpedo, Nestor was hit, and we had to put our helm hard-a-port to prevent ramming him. Our torpedo gunner made frantic efforts to train the torpedo tube round to keep his sights on, but the ship was swinging so rapidly that he could not do it, and unfortunately the Captain did not realise until afterwards that the torpedo had never been fired. The Nestor, realising that he was out of action, ordered us to rejoin Champion, for apparently our recall had been hoisted for some time, and accordingly we turned and rejoined Champion at full speed. It seemed perfectly extraordinary that, in spite of the tornado of shells falling all around us, we were never hit once except by a few splinters.
The next text covering this action is contained in a narrative from HMS Nestor, taken from a book Falkland, Jutland and the Bight, (John Murray, London, 1919) by her captain, Commander the Hon. Barry Bingham, who was awarded the VC for his part in the action. [In Sea Warfare Kipling’s account is on pp. 154-156]
When the action commenced, the Nestor was about half a mile ahead of the battle cruisers, from which position we had the best point of vantage for observing the enemy’s salvoes falling around the Lion. The enemy’s shooting appeared pretty good, and it was clear that he was concentrating on Admiral Beatty’s flagship.
Shortly after 4 p.m. the Admiral signalled that the flotilla of destroyers ahead was to attack the enemy’s battle cruisers with torpedoes. Captain (D) in the Champion immediately repeated the order, adding that the Nestor and her division were to lead the attack.
I immediately hoisted the signal for full speed, and ordered the destroyers to form a single line astern of me. Then shaping course a point and a half (16?°) in towards the enemy, we ran full speed at 35 knots for half an hour, in order to reach an advantageous position on the enemy’s bows, such as would enable me to launch the torpedo attack with the greatest possible prospect of success.
On drawing out to this position, we observed the enemy’s fifteen destroyers coming out with the object of making a similar torpedo attack on our battle cruisers.
At 4.40 p.m., having reached the desired position, I turned to N. (approximately 14 points (160°) to port, followed in succession by the rest of the destroyers, with this objective: (a) to frustrate the intended torpedo attack by enemy destroyers on our battle cruisers by intercepting them and bringing them to action; (b) to push home our attack on the enemy’s battle cruisers.
The German destroyers then immediately turned on a course parallel to ours, and the destroyer action commenced at a range of 10,000 yars. I promptly manoeuvred to close this range.
At 4.45 the Nomad, my immediate follower, was hit in the boiler room, and hauled out of line disabled. We in the Nestor got the range very quickly, and pumped in three or four salvoes from our 4-inch guns. Two German destroyers disappeared beneath the surface, and though it is unreasonable definitely to claim the credit for sinking a given ship where many are concerned, my control officer is still prepared to affirm that the Nestor’s guns accounted for one of them.
At 4.50 p.m. the enemy’s destroyers turned tail and fled. Pursued by the British, they divided themselves into two portions, one-half of which made for the head, while the other took cover under the tail of the German battle cruiser line. It must be remembered that, although they were numerically superior to us, the enemy’s destroyers were neither so large nor so heavily armed.
The British boats promptly turned to chase the enemy’s fleeing T.B.D.s, and while I proceeded with my division, now reduced to two boats (i.e., Nestor and Nicator) after those of the enemy’s destroyers who were making for the head of the battle cruiser line, the other two divisions of the T.B.D.s went after the remaining, and larger, portion of the German destroyers.
Just then the enemy’s battle cruisers altered fout points to port – that is, forty-five degrees to the left. Most probably this manoeuvre was prompted by the warning splashes that marked the discharge of the British torpedoes, of which the Nestor had just fired her first two.
Thus I found myself with the solitary Nicator hot in the track of the fleeing destroyers, and now rapidly approaching the head of the German battle cruiser line, who were not slow in giving us an extremely warm welcome from their secondary armament. At a distance of 3,000 to 4,000 yards the Nestor fired her third torpedo, and immediately afterwards at 4.58 turned away eight points to starboard, in order to get clear of the danger zone and to regain the line of the British battle cruisers.
Suddenly from behind the head of the enemy’s line there came a German light cruiser, who opened hot fire and straddled us. It was just about 5 o’clock when two boilers were put out of action by direct hits. From the bridge I saw at once that something of the kind had happened. A huge cloud of steam was rising from the boiler room, completely enshrouding the whole ship, and it was painfully apparent that our speed was dropping every second. Our speed died away gradually, until at 5.30 we came to a dead stop.
Nothing daunted, the engine-room staff applied themselves with all the means in their power to the work of setting the engines in motion. But it was all without avail. The damage was of a nature which required, above all, time. Before anything could be done, the boilers had to be cooled off, and all pipes were in the overheated condition that results from a high speed run.
The German light cruiser, having crippled us, almost immediately turned back and rejoined her own battle cruisers.
Seeing our plight, the Petard (Lieutenant Commander E.C.O. Thomson), now returning from the chase of the major portion of the German flotilla, gallantly offered a tow; but I had no hesitation in refusing an offer which would have meant the exposure of two ships to the danger that properly belonged to one.
Curiously enough, when our speed gave out, we found ourselves brought to a standstill at a spot only two miles west of the Nomad, our only comrade in misfortune.
But although crippled, we had guns that were still intact, and a hostile destroyer swooping down on what she thought an easy prey, was greeted with volleys of salvoes from our invaluable semi-automatic guns. After such a warm reception, the German destroyer sheered off post-haste.
While lying helpless and broken down, we saw the opposing forces of battle cruisers retracing their tracks to the N.W., fighting on parallel courses. The rival squadrons quickly disappeared behind the horizon, engaged furiously, and we were left with the ocean to ourselves. But it was not to be for long. Fifteen minutes later my yeoman-of-signals reported: “German battleships on the horizon, shaping course in our direction.” This was more than I had ever bargained for, and, using my own glasses, I was dumbfounded to see that it was in truth the main body of the German High Seas Fleet, steaming at top speed in a N.W. direction, and following the wake of their own battle cruisers.
Their course necessarily led them past the Nomad, and in another ten minutes the slaughter began. They literally smothered the destroyer with salvoes. Of my divisional mate nothing could be seen: great columns of spray and smoke alone gave an indication of her whereabouts. I shall never forget the sight, and mercifully it was a matter of a few minutes before the ship sank; at the same time, it seemed impossible that anyone on board could have survived.
Of what there was in store for us there was not now the vestige of a doubt, and the problem was how to keep all hands occupied for the few minutes before the crash must come.
While the sub-lieutenant and myself were “ditching” all charts, confidential books. and documents, the first lieutenant and the men were executing my orders in providing biscuits and water for the boats; lowering these to the water’s edge; hoisting out Carley floats; and generally preparing for the moment when we should be obliged to leave the ship.
These orders were rapidly executed, and there was still time on our hands. By a brilliant inspiration, Bethell then suggested to me that the cables might be ranged on deck – ostensibly for use in case of a friendly tow, but in reality to keep the men busy to the last. This suggestion I readily accepted, and the hands were still thus employed when the end came.
From a distance of about five miles the Germans commenced with their secondary armament, and very soon we were enveloped in a deluge of shell fire. Any reply from our guns was absolutely out of the question at a range beyond the range of our light shells; to have answered any one of our numerous assailants would have been as effective as a peashooter against a wall of steel. Just about this time, we fired our last torpedo at the High Sea Fleet, and it was seen to run well.
It was a matter of two or three minutes before the Nestor, enwrapped in a cloud of smoke and spray, the centre of a whirlwind of shrieking shells, received not a few heavy and vital hits, and the ship began slowly to settle by the stern, and then to take up a heavy list to starboard.
Her decks now showed the first signs of havoc among life and limb.
It was clear that the doomed Nestor was sinking rapidly, and at that moment I gave my last order as her commander – “Abandon ship”.
The motor boat and the Carley floats were quickly filled; and as the dinghy was badly broken up by shell fire, there seemed to me only the possibility of a place in the whaler.
Bethell was standing beside me, and I turned to him with the question, “Now, where shall we go?” His answer was only characteristic of that gallant spirit, “To Heaven, I trust, Sir.”
At that moment he turned aside to attend to a mortally wounded signalman, and was seen no more amidst a cloud of fumes from a bursting shell.
I clambered into the whaler, where I found about eight others waiting, and we remained alongside until the last possible moment, hailing the partially-submerged ship vigorously, in the unlikely event of any survivors being on board. Finally we pushed clear.
The whaler, however, had also been hit, probably at the same time as the dinghy, and before we had gone half a dozen strokes she filled and sank. We then struck out, I luckily having my “Miranda” life-saving waistcoat on, for the well-loaded motor-boat, lying some fifty yards ahead of the Nestor, where some of us were pulled in, the rest supporting themselves by holding on to the gunwale.
Looking now towards the Nestor, we saw the water lapping over the decks, and the forecastle high in the air, still the target of the German gun-layers, some of whose projectiles fell uncomfortably near us in the motor-boat and rafts.
In about three minutes the destroyer suddenly raised herself into an absolutely perpendicular position, and thus slid down, stern first, to the bottom of the North Sea, leaving a quantity of oil and wreckage to mark the spot where she had last rested.
As she sank, her sharp stem and stockless anchors alone visible, we gave our gallant but cruelly short-lived Nestor three rousing cheers and sang “God Save the King.”
[The Nestor had only been completed a scant two months earlier.]
The final account from the “Three Destroyers” is a “Letter from an Officer of HMS Nomad“. The writer was almost certainly the sub lieutenant, Sub Lieutenant David Wainwright, Royal Navy – it clearly wasn’t the Captain, and since the writer’s station was aft, it was most unlikely to be the First Lieutenant, who normally acted as the Gunnery Control Officer on the bridge. The only other executive officer was the Warrant Gunner (T) (= Torpedo), whose style of writing this was not, and who would have written “I fired the last torpedo” (his action station was in charge of the torpedo tubes.
As you know, we came from Rosyth with the battle cruisers, and on the afternoon of May 31st were much excited intercepting “Fritz’s” Telefunken [i.e. wireless – ‘Telefunken’ was the German equivalent of ‘Marconi’; Ed.] I think we cleared for action about 2.15 p.m, and sighted Hipper’s battle cruisers about 2.30 p.m. The Germans opened fire first, and our battle cruisers followed. Not long after this the 13th Flotilla, to which we belonged, were ordered to attack the enemy battle cruisers with torpedoes, and we engaged a Hun flotilla that was simultaneously moving out to attack our battle cruisers.
Five very bright minutes followed, during which it was almost impossible to spot our fall of shot, but we saw one German destroyer which we were engaging start to settle by the bow. The first hit on us smashed a big hole in our upper deck, killed all the after torpedo tube’s crew, and also killed several engine-room ratings. Another hit came clean through the main steam pipe, causing a cloud of steam to rise like a thick fog, so that, from my position aft, I could see no part of the ship forward. The ship then gradually slowed down and finally stopped.
A few minutes after this we spotted the main German battle fleet coming up towards us from the southward. The Sub-Lieutenant and myself were for’ard on the foc’sle, preparing gear for being taken in tow on the off-chance of a ship turning up to tow us; the Captain was busy dumping overboard confidential books, and the rest of the ship’s company were going hard at the pumps and turning out the boats, etc.
We fired our last torpedo as the leading German ship came up, but owing to damage it stuck in the tube until a hit from one of the enemy, which had now opened on us strongly, caused the ship to lurch over and the torpedo rolled out. One of our ordinary seamen, seeing the track of this torpedo, shouted out, “Here comes a torpedo,” which didn’t help matters any. By this time salvoes were falling all around us, as a whole German battle squadron were apparently using us as a target for a practice firing., and the Nomad was rapidly being turned into something remarkably like a Gruyère cheese. We were about 2,000 yards, as far as I can remember, from the leading German battleship when we fired the last torpedo, and so we were at practically point-blank range for their 11-inch and 12-inch guns. The ship then started sinking by the stern with a great rattle from the loose gear tumbling about in her, and then gradually disappeared, but all the men were got clear just before she sank, and, after a short swim in the sea a life-saving apparatus in the shape of a German torpedo boat, so small that we could almost have taken it on with our fists, came up and picked us up out of the water. She was a single-funnel craft, with one pop-gun on the foc’sle, one torpedo tube mounted on rails, and her decks piled high with coal. However, one doesn’t look a gift-horse in the mouth, and in her we were taken back to Germany, and, as, you probably know, we were the ‘Kaiser’s guests’ there fore the next two and a half years!
The next section of ‘Destroyers at Jutland’, which described the actions of HMS Onslow (Sea Warfare pp. 156 to 160, under the heading of ‘LUCK’) was described in ‘The Fighting at Jutland’ in a piece which was almost certainly written by her First Lieutenant, Lieutenant J.N. Knox. He retired in the mid-1930s as a Commander, but returned for World War II, retiring again in 1945 as a Captain.
Early in the afternoon Onslow and Moresby, of the 13th Destroyer Flotilla, had been detached from screening the 1st B.C.S. (Battle Cruiser Squadron – Beatty’s ships) to screen the seaplane carrier, Engadine. At about 3.30 p.m., when the Engadine’s seaplane had returned to her, the Commanding Officer of the Engadine gave us permission to rejoin the 1st B.C.S., then some distance to the S.S.E. steering a southerly course, and we proceeded at full speed to rejoin them.
At about 4.45 p.m., when still a mile or so astern, we noticed much to our surprise, that the battle-cruiser squadron was altering course 16 points (180° – this was when Beatty, having chased, or been drawn by, the German battle cruiser force, and having discovered the High Seas Fleet behind them, turned to draw them towards Jellicoe) so we also turned and found ourselves ahead of the fleet steering north approximately 3 miles on the engaged bow of the Lion. This was a good position from which to make a torpedo attack, especially as no protective cruisers or destroyers could be seen ahead of the enemy battle cruisers, so the Captain decided to take the opportunity to attack, and with the Moresby we closed in towards the enemy. Shortly afterwards, however, four enemy light cruisers appeared ahead of the German battle cruisers, and observing us in a conspicuous position closing the enemy, opened a very heavy and accurate fire on us and Moresby. The Captain, seeing that it would be impossible to get into close range against this gunfire, decided to reserve his torpedoes for a more favourable opportunity. Moresby, however, fired one torpedo, which was afterwards found to have scored a hit on the rear enemy battle cruiser.
At 5.5 p.m. we retired towards the Lion under very heavy fire from the enemy, and as they were outside the range of our 4-inch guns, we experienced the helpless feeling of being concentrated upon, expecting every moment that the next salvo would sink us, whilst we were unable to make any reply. Moresby separated from us to avoid making a double target, and under cover of a smoke screen we managed to regain our battle cruiser line without any damage, although the impact caused by salvoes of shells hitting the water and bursting very close to the ship had made our engine-room department think that we had been hit repeatedly.
We were now again on the engaged bow of the Lion, watching the action between the rival battle cruisers with deep interest, for in this position we had a better view of the action than almost any other ship. The battle cruisers were firing heavily at one another at a range of about 14,000 yards (seven nautical miles, eight land miles), and the noise of the salvoes firing and bursting was incessant and terrific, but we could see little of the effect of the fire. After a glorious clear afternoon, the visibility had now become rather indifferent, and a mist was creeping up. Lion and Tiger, of the surviving four battle cruisers, seemed both to have suffered somewhat, but as the enemy were gradually drawing off to the eastward to increase the range, we hoped that the damage our battle cruisers had done to them was more severe. At 5.45 p.m. the Grand Fleet cruisers were sighted on our port bow, and a very welcome sight they were, I can assure you, for knowing that the Germans had their entire battle-fleet out in support, this recent run to the northward had been rather an anxious journey.
At 5.50 p.m. we sighted the first battle squadron , and Lion immediately started to close the enemy, turning to the eastward, and rapidly reduced the range. The German battle cruisers also made a big turn to the east and a little later to a course about S.E. Just as our battle cruisers were conforming to this last alteration, we sighted a broken-down enemy light cruiser only about 6,000 yards from the Lion, in a position to fire torpedoes at our battle cruiser line. We were suitably placed on the engaged bow of the Lion for repelling such an attack, and at once went off to try and stop this firing of torpedoes, and at a range of 4,000 to 2,000 yards, or less, engaged this light cruiser, firing 88 rounds of which I an sure a number must have hit. At one time, we came so close that, with a range of 1,000 yards on the gun sights, our shots were still not falling short. The enemy cruiser replied vigorously, but with little success. Her firing was very much easier to endure than the firing which we had suffered an hour earlier, when we had simply to sit still under a heavy “bombardment” unable to make any reply. I should not say perhaps that this cruiser’s fire exercised no strain on us, for one man of my gun’s crew, for example, was found sheltering behind a flimsy bit of canvas, apparently acting on an extension of the ostrich principle that, if he was out of sight of the enemy, their shells could not hit him. But his nervousness had its use, for when shown what a fool he was the men laughed at him, and it served to steady the gun’s crew, who went on firing the whole time just as coolly as if they were at target practice.
We now saw that the enemy battle cruisers had made another turn so that we were brought 45 degrees on their port bow at only about 11,000 yards from them – an ideal position for a torpedo attack – so the Captain closed the enemy, and when 8,000 yards from the leading enemy battle cruiser gave the signal to the torpedo tubes to fire and turned the ship to port to bring the sights on. Unfortunately, just at this moment the ship was struck amidships by a heavy shell, and was enveloped in clouds of escaping steam. In the confusion only one of our four torpedoes was fired, although the Captain understood that all four torpedoes had gone. He sent the sub-lieutenant aft to the tubes to find out exactly what had happened, and this officer, finding out at the tubes that there were still three torpedoes left, and sighting at the same moment our old friend the German light cruiser, now a couple of miles away on our beam, himself aimed and fires a torpedo at her. This torpedo hit the light cruiser below the conning tower and exploded. The Sub. then returned to the bridge and reported the fact that there were still two torpedoes left [Kipling, for some reason, writes ‘three’: Ed.] and at the same moment the writer of this account came for’ard to report to the Captain that the ship was in no immediate danger of sinking, for although our speed had dropped from 30 knots to a miserable 10 immediately we were hit, the engineer officer reported that we should be able to keep this speed up for some little time. It was not a very pleasant speed, though, at which to be cruising about within 3 miles of an enemy battle cruiser squadron that were sending an unpleasant number of shells splashing around us.
Receiving these reports, the Captain abandoned his intention of creeping out of range of the enemy before being hopelessly crippled, and decided to go in again and make use of the two remaining torpedoes by delivering a final attack on the enemy’s line of battle, which at this time was re-appearing out of the mist about 8,000 yards away.
Again, we were on the enemy’s bow in a good position for a torpedo attack. The Captain explained to me his reasons for going in to attack after being partly crippled, in case I might be a survivor and he himself killed, so that I should be able to justify his decision and answer any charge of foolhardiness. He pointed out that his policy was sound, as we were in a position of torpedo advantage, and if we cleared out without firing our last two torpedoes they would be wasted, for we were far too damaged to take any part in the action later on. The probability was that the ship would be lost, as our reduced speed made us an easy target, but what was one destroyer more or less compared to a torpedo hit on one of the enemy battle line? So we steered in again towards the enemy.
The sub-lieutenant was sent aft again to supervise the firing of the torpedoes, and soon after coming under fire again we fired the two torpedoes, noticing that they started their run satisfactorily, and more than probably crossed the enemy battle line, although it was impossible to follow the track very far.
About this time, I noticed some black smoke coming up from the ship’s side abreast the mainmast [a rather grandiose name for a small pole which supported the wireless aerials, much shorter than the foremast by the bridge which, with its yards for the signal flag halliards, looked much more like a ‘proper’ mast: Ed.] and thinking there might be a small fire there, I sent down my messenger to investigate. Presently he came back grinning from ear to ear to tell me, “Your cabin has gone, sir,” which subsequent investigation proved to be quite correct. A shell, after passing through three or four bulkheads, not to mention the wardroom gramophone, had selected my cabin as a suitable place to burst, and had, almost literally, removed the whole place, with every imaginable possession of mine that had been there.
The deck above and below was torn away, and nearly the whole of the ship’s side had disappeared. The Captain’s cabin, the ward-room, the cabin flat, etc., all presented a sorry appearance, being entirely wrecked and inches deep in a messy mixture of oil fuel and salt water.
Meanwhile the Captain had, as he put it in his official report, “retired at greatly reduced speed … proceeding to close HMS Champion, with the idea of rejoining the 13th Flotilla,” but owing to two shell exploding in No. 2 boiler-room, the ship gradually lost speed, and then stopped whilst we were still some way short of the battle line. Just before this we observed near us one of our battleships stopped and surrounded with water spouts, apparently abut to be sunk, although she was replying to the enemy’s fire with all her guns – an inspiring sight. We afterwards discovered that it was the Warspite doing her famous stunt at “Windy Corner.”
Two of her officers afterwards told us that we in the Onslow presented an equally remarkable appearance, roaming about all alone between the battle lines belching forth great clouds of steam, and we were given credit in some quarters for having put up a smoke screen in front of the Warspite. But we did not do this deliberately, as the Warspite was firing so lustily herself that we thought she might not like it.
[Warspite was a unit of the 5th Battle Squadron, and was attempting with the rest of Beatty’s ships to take station with the Grand Fleet . The point where they turned became known as “Windy Corner”, and Warspite received damage to her steering gear which caused her to execute two full circles under heavy enemy fire before the damaged gear could be disconnected and secondary steering brought into use: Ed.]
The Engineer Officer now arrived on the bridge to report that he could only steam for a few more minutes, as the main feed tank was holed and all the water in the reserve feed tanks was used up. Hardly had he spoken when we gradually lost headway and lay stopped, still within range of the enemy. A few minutes before, our 13th Flotilla, led by Champion, had come dashing past us and had asked if we wanted assistance, but as they all looked too healthy to be employed assisting us, the Captain had replied “No”. But now, when the ship was stopped, we would have changed the answer to “Yes” if it had been possible, but it was not, for we had no signalling apparatus left, and the flotilla were now out of hailing distance. Meanwhile we were busy trying to stop up the holes in the ship’s side with our collision mats, which proved to be rather a ludicrous proceeding as the holes were larger than the mats. We also got ready for’ard to be taken in tow, in the hopes of some other ship turning up to tow us.
The battle was now surging away from us, and to our surprise, the Warspite also seemed to have come to life again and disappeared to the south-east.
I remember, as the battle lines receded, how remarkable was the calm in contrast to the continuous roar of gunfire, the shriek of shells passing overhead, and the roar of steam escaping from our engine room, which had deafened us for the last half-hour. Now that every engine in the ship was stopped and the two battle fleets were out of sight, the sudden stillness was very weird, even though we could still hear the gunfire of the battle closer than we quite liked. It seemed like having fallen off the top of a noisy rumbling motor ‘bus and being left lying in the road in a reactionary calm, too injured to move, but wondering all the time whether another ‘bus was coming along to finish us off.
A quarter of an hour after our engines stopped, at 7.15 p.m., the Defender came in sight, closed us, and asked if she could be of any assistance. She also was a lame duck, having been reduced to a speed of 0 knots by a 12-inch shell ricocheting into her foremost boiler room, so, as she was of no further fighting use for that day, our Captain accepted her offer, and she proceeded to take us in tow.
There then started the long journey home of two lame-duck destroyers, which Rudyard Kipling has written of under the title, “The Cripple and the Paralytic”. [pp. 160-162 of ‘Sea Warfare’ – the heading is actually “Towing under difficulties”: Ed.] I am not able to compete with Rudyard Kipling as a descriptive author, and anyhow there is really not much to be said about it, except that it was a somewhat uncertain and distinctly uncomfortable voyage. The taking in tow was enlivened by a few large splashes arriving near us, I don’t know where from, and by the apparent probability of the general action returning to our neighbourhood at any moment. The Captain directed Defender to shape course west by north as soon as we were I tow, and just as dusk was falling we left the scene of our adventures at rather less than 6 knots’ speed, still hearing occasional bursts of firing to the southward. I must mention here that, in spite of the heavy damage to the ship, our casualties were only three men killed, which was really an astonishingly light number considering all the damage we had received. Two of these three men we buried next morning according to the custom of the sea.
About 9 p.m. we had a mild scare, the after look-outs reporting a large ship overhauling us, but, to our relief, it proved to be the Warspite, which signalled to us, “Take station astern; speed 16 knots”, and then rapidly disappeared on the port bow. We were not 16 knotters.
A fresh sou’westerly breeze was now gaining force every hour and the barometer was falling fast. Three times the tow parted, and eventually we found that the only tow that was proof against the continual jerks of the two ships plunging in the short steep sea, was a span composed almost entirely of chain cable. But after a time the Engineer Officer raised enough steam in the boilers, by using salt water, to enable the steering engine to be worked, and this was a great assistance in preventing the ship from yawing violently from side to side as she had been doing. Most of the hands at this time were employed in transferring oil fuel from one tank to another in any little pot or pan that could be collected – the only means of getting the fuel to the boilers, as the pipe system was out of order, and only the for’ard tank had any oil left in it. We were still able to receive W/T signals, although we could not send any, and we intercepted one signal from Champion giving directions for a division of the 13th Flotilla to search for Onslow, but neither ourselves nor Defender (which was able to signal) could tell Champion where we were, as we did not know ourselves, and, our sextants all being smashed up, we could not find out.
We continued towards Aberdeen during the 1st June, but that evening intercepted a signal reporting a division of enemy destroyers steering a course and speed which apparently would take them right past our position. However, we had all our guns intact and plenty of ammunition left, and made arrangements with Defender that we would occupy the Huns whilst she tried to make good her escape. But our anxiety over this was unnecessary, as some days later we heard that the scare was a false one, the division of destroyers being a British one wrongly reported as Germans.
In spite of the wind continuing to freshen, the tow held throughout the night of 1st June without further trouble, and on Friday, June 2nd, we got under the lee of Scotland, and at 1 p.m. that day were met by tugs off Aberdeen and taken safely into harbour. There we remained being repaired for the next two months.
The other half of the tale is told in the Narrative of H.M.S. Defender. Again, the author isn’t named, but it seems most likely that it was written by the First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Ralph Broughton:
H.M.S. Defender had been detached from the 1st Flotilla, and was attached to the Harwich Flotilla for duty with the 3rd Battle Squadron at Sheerness [a squadron of old pre-Dreadnought battleships, stationed at the Nore to counter any German attempt on the cross-Channel lines of communication: Ed.] but was carrying out a periodical docking and refit at Leith, near Rosyth, which was completed at noon on the 30th May.
After completing with oil and ammunition at Rosyth on that day, instead of getting sailing orders to return to Harwich, we were very much astonished to be told to raise steam for full speed and join the Fearless and the six remaining boats of the 1st Flotilla for duty with the Rosyth force. We sailed with Fearless and the flotilla about 9.30 p.m. on 39th May, and were stationed as anti-submarine screen to the 5th Battle Squadron. We had no intimation on board of what we were doing or even of the composition of our own forces out. The first news we received of anything out of the ordinary was a semaphore message about 3.45 [p.m.] on Wednesday 31st May, from our Captain (D) in the Fearless stating that the enemy had been sighted. However, as we could not see any enemy it did not excite us very much, until we saw the 5th B.S. increase to full speed and hoist a signal to destroyers “get out of the way”. We then realised something was up, and very soon afterwards sounds of firing were heard ahead from the battle cruisers.
We formed, by signal from Fearless, on the starboard, i.e. the disengaged, quarter of the last ship in the 5th B.S. line, the Malaya, where we were in readiness for any attack. Nothing of the enemy could be seen except the flashing of his guns, but in the distance we saw the loss of the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary.
It was next seen that the battle cruisers led by the Lion had turned 16 points [180°], and were steaming to the North on an opposite course to the 5th B.S., and as they had no destroyers with them, Captain D turned the 1st flotilla to their course and we received a signal to form an anti-submarine screen ahead of the battle cruisers. Defender’s billet should have been half a mile ahead of Lion, but the Lion was doing a jolly good 25 and we had not got the legs of her. However, we had a good lead and were the leading boat of the flotilla, the whole lot of which were racing for the positions, but could not get ahead of the Lion. Defender got to about half a cable (100 yards) on the port beam of the Lion with Acheron just outside. We could see that the Lion had received some damage to “Q” turret, and men were working around it putting things right again, for at the time they were out of range of the enemy.
Our next move (at about 6 p.m.) was a signal from the Lion – “Prepare to renew the action” – and almost at once we saw the leading ships of the battle fleet coming in from our port bow. Lion turned to starboard to close the range on the enemy, but the leading destroyers of the battle fleet which had not yet got the deployment signal, nearly collided with us, but we held on to our course and they went under our stern out of it.
As we closed the range, the Germans started to drop shells about, and salvo after salvo, meant for the Lion fell beautifully all around us. At about 6.30 p.m. we took a ricochet 12-inch shell, which came in sideways into the foremost boiler-room and lodged in the bottom of the ship under the boiler without exploding. It tore a hole about 8 feet wide in the side of the ship, cut steam pipes, and started an oil fuel fire. Naturally, our speed dropped at once, and it was obvious we could do no good where we were, so we turned out and passed between the two fleets until t got a bit clearer. We then turned again and stopped to take stock of the damage. By great exertion and extreme bravery, the boiler-room party had shut the stop valves, and the oil fuel fire, which had raged furiously was put out with sand. The collision mat was got over the hole in the side, and acted well in checking the entry of any more water. It was found that the main steam pipe had not been cut, and that we had one boiler left and the engines intact, and with one boiler a speed of 15 knots, or perhaps more in an emergency, could be guaranteed.
A destroyer, which afterwards proved to be the Onslow, was seen some distance off, stopped and apparently in worse plight than ourselves, so we closed her and offered assistance. This was at once accepted, a she had a 5-degree list, no steam, and no steering gear left, and about three large holes in her. We started to get her in tow, but very nearly made a mess of it owing to some cruisers coming into view, which looked as if they were Germans going to put an end to both of us. We luckily got the Onslow’s wire in in time, and started to clear out of it – course, west for England.
About 9 p.m. that night – Wednesday 31st – a large ship was seen coming up astern, but on being challenged she proved to be the Warspite, also homeward bound. We asked if we might keep with her for protection, but unfortunately she was too fast for us, and disappeared into the darkness without giving our position. Both of us wanted a position badly, as during the fighting no very accurate reckoning had been kept, and our compasses had no doubt been put out of adjustment.
In the middle watch [Midnight – 4 a.m.] the wind got up, and unfortunately we did not ease speed in time, so the tow parted. But the Onslow had got some steam by this time, and said she would struggle on by herself, but at daylight it was seen that it was hopeless and she was hardly making any way through the water so it was decided to take her in tow again, using Defender’s wire. Some little time was taken to prepare for this, and also it was necessary for Defender to steam stern to wind to adjust her collision mats, which had become displaced in the rising sea. But eventually the Onslow got in tow again, and we were just going well ahead when the towing slip [a device connecting the towing wire to the towing ship’s structure, through which all the strain comes, and which is capable of being disconnected in an instant] of Defender snapped clean in two. This meant further delay and getting some cable from the fo’csle aft, but at last Onslow was in tow again with Defender’s wire secured to a shackle of cable [in this case, a shackle is a specific length – twelve-and-a-half fathoms, or seventy five feet – of chain cable.] round the pedestal of Defender’s after 4-inch gun.
The weather got steadily worse, which gave us cause for anxiety as we wanted to take a sight of the sun, being very uncertain of our position, and whenever we tried to take a sounding we lost every lead owing to the heavy rolling of the ship. Also our anxiety was increased by the very alarming reports received from time to time fro Onslow, from which it really seemed that we should fail to get her in, and that she would sink while still in tow. To slip our make-shift towing gear would have been impossible for us, and the chance of saving her cre would have been very remote. The weather was anxiously studied, and, as the Onslow had no barometer left, she was asking us for frequent reading in the hopes that we had seen the worst of it and that a turn for the better was coming. But our speed went down and down until we could barely keep steerage way.
Just before dark we intercepted a wireless signal from one of our destroyers which was apparently ahead of us, stating that she had sighted four German destroyers steaming back towards Heligoland, and from the course and position she gave of them, we estimated that they would pass close by us. A couple of lame birds would have been easy meat for them, so Onslow decided to alter course up to the northward to give them as wide a berth as possible, but as we were so uncertain of our position, we were still left rather anxious that we might run across them. However, we didn’t meet them. [The captain of the Onslow, Lieutenant Commander Tovey, was some ten months senior to the captain of Defender, Lieutenant Commander Palmer, so, although his ship was in the worse condition, and in no position to do anything, he took charge, and ‘called the shots’.]
Next morning, Friday, 2nd June, the weather got a little better, and about 10 o’clock, to our great relief, we made out Tod head, and shaped course for Aberdeen which we reached about 1.0 p.m., when a couple of tugs picked up the Onslow from us just outside the breakwater, and took her into harbour.
As there was no reason for Defender to enter, we shaped course for the Firth of Forth, and made fast alongside the destroyer depot ship Woolwich, from where in due course we moved into dockyard and there refitted the ship and gave leave to the crew.
The next section of Sea Warfare was part II of ‘”Destroyers at Jutland” which described the actions of four particular ships of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla (pp. 165-179 and 180-182 of Sea Warfare). As explained in the notes to Sea Warfare, Kipling concealed the actual names of the destroyers by giving them fictional ones: ‘Gehenna’ was HMS Tipperary; ‘Eblis’ was HMS Spitfire; and ‘Shaitan’ was HMS Sparrowhawk.
The following text consists first of an outline by the editors of the 1920 volume, H.W. FAWCETT and G.W.W. HOOPER, which summarises the events described by Kipling, and is a prologue to the accounts from the individual ships.
The 4th Destroyer Flotilla, of which “Tipperary” was the leader, and”Broke” the half-leader, was in the very heart of the night-fighting at Jutland, and had perhaps, on this night, as many fighting adventures as has ever fallen to the lot of one small squadron of ships.
Engaged at about 11.30 p.m. by three or four German cruisers at very close range, the “Tipperary” herself was irreparably damaged, her next astern, ”Spitfire” was also badly hit, and the rest of the flotilla in the confusion separated one from another. ”Spitfire”, by herself after this action, was seeking to rejoin her flotilla, when quite suddenly a German cruiser [as noted in the notes on Sea Warfare itself, it was in fact the German dreadnought Nassau] tried to ram her.
She quickly put her helm hard over and went full speed ahead, thereby just avoiding that cruiser’s ram, but by so little that, “with an awful crash the two ships met end on, port bow to port bow”, and the German cruiser “surged down our port side, clearing everything before her, boats and even davits being torn from their sockets, and all the time firing her guns just over our heads”. But so close were the two ships together that the German could not depress his guns sufficiently to hit the ”Spitfire”, yet the blast of the guns firing “literally cleared everything before it; our mast came tumbling down, our for’ard searchlight found its way from its platform above the fore-bridge down on to the deck, and the foremost funnel was blown back until it rested neatly between the two foremost ventilation cowls like the hinging funnel of a penny river steamer”.
Sixty odd feet of plating from the German cruiser’s fo’csle was left in ”Spitfire’s” side as a memento of this incident. A little later another extraordinary incident occurred, perhaps the strangest of all the strange incidents of Jutland.
The ”Spitfire’s” crew were just recovering from their ramming match with the German cruiser, and most of the ship’s company were collected aft, when “suddenly there was a cry from nearly a dozen people at once, ‘Look out!’ I looked up, and saw a few hundred yards away, what appeared to be a battle cruiser on fire, steering straight for our stern . . . To our intense relief she missed our stern by a few feet, but so close to us that it seemed that we were actually under her guns, which were trained out on her starboard beam. She tore past us with a roar, rather like motor roaring up a hill on low gear, and the very cracking and heat of the flames could be heard and felt. She was a mass of fire from fore-mast to main-mast,on deck and between decks . . . flames were issuing from every corner. She appeared to be a battle cruiser as her funnels were so far apart, but afterwards it transpired that quite possibly she was the unfortunate ’Black Prince’, with her two centre funnels gone. Soon afterwards, about midnight, there came an explosion from the direction in which she had disappeared.”
Those were two of ”Spitfire’s” adventures.
Meanwhile “Broke” had collected together some of the scattered flotilla, and had almost immediately come into action, either with the same group of German ships again, or possibly with a fresh ship, possily a battleship. ”Broke” was very badly hit, losing 47 men killed and 36 wounded out of a crew of about 190; her steering wheel was shot away by a shell, and not under control she swung out of line. ”Sparrowhawk” was her next astern, and swinging in the same direction to bring the sights of her torpedo tube to bear upon the enemy, crashed into the swinging ”Broke” before it was possible to avoid collision. The force of the collision hurled a few men of the ”Sparrowhawk” across on to the deck of the ”Broke” (where they later met with the not unnatural query, “Who the h*ll are you?”) and amidst clouds of escaping steam, smoke, and the splashes of shells, the two destroyers lay locked hard and fast together. Each ship thought that she was sinking. ”Broke” sent some of her men across to ”Sparrowhawk” to save their lives; ”Sparrowhawk” sent some across to ”Broke”. Neither ship sank.
Eventually the two ships parted themselves, but as they did so another destroyer of the 4th flotilla, the ”Contest”, came out of the darkness and crashed into the stern of ”Sparrowhawk”, jamming her rudder hard over, thus crippling ”Sparrowhawk” both ends.
”Broke” then disappeared, and very much injured struggled back across the North Sea through a rising gale. Two German destroyers were met and engaged on the way back, but they broke off the action after a few minutes, unaware of the crippled state of their opponent, and eventually the ”Broke” sighted land at 5.0 p.m. on Saturday the 3rd June; she had received her damage 65 hours before, at about midnight on Wednesday 31st May.
Then the ”Sparrowhawk”, sans bow, sans stern, lay off in the darkness, a helpless wreck, and waited for what fate might have in store for her. Fate plated with her. A German destroyer, at about 2 a.m., came up to within 100 yards of her and then stopped. The ”Sparrowhawk’s”men prepared for a final fight using their one remaining gun before this destroyer should kill them, but suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the German destroyer “started her engines again, gathered way, and disappeared into the darkness”. For 3½ hours nothing more happened, but then, out of the misty half-light of the morning, a dim shape approached, which with despair was recognised to be that of one of the latest German light cruisers, and the ”Sparrowhawks” again prepared for their end. “Fellow went about whispering that this must be the end of all things, and asked each other what it was like to be dead”. But their course was not yet run. The light cruiser started to heel over to one side, to settle down forward, then quietly stood on her head, and – sank.
Meanwhile “Tipperary”, a blazing wreck since the time of her first action at 11.30 p.m., with the ammunition at the forward guns exploding box by box at short intervals, and an occasional German closing to fire a few rounds at her or at another time only to inspect her, at last reached her end, and about 2 a.m. sank by the bow.
A few of the survivors of her crew took to life-saving rafts – the boats had all been smashed up by gunfire – and others just swam off to take their chances in the sea, for the rafts would not hold all who were left. Three hours later one of these raft loads came across a ship, or rather the remains of a ship, for it was what was left of the ”Sparrowhawk”, the destroyer without bows or stern. 26 survivors of ”Tipperary” were hauled aboard the ”Sparrowhawk”. They had been recognised afar off by the tune they were singing, “It’s a long, long way to Tipperary”, although the officer with them on account of exposure, “could not think of the words, and his music was all one note”. Eventually, an undamaged destroyer, the ”Marksman”, came across the ”Sparrowhawk”, and the survivors of both ships were brought back in safety to Scotland.
But, alas, the casualties of the 4th Flotilla did not belong only to ”Tipperary”, “Broke”, “Sparrowhawk” or “Spitfire”. Statioed in rear of our battlefleet, the 4th Flotilla happened to be directly in the path of the German squadrons steering from the day action towards Horn Reef, and one or another boat of the squadron continued to be in action with enemy ships during most of the night.
H.M.S. ”Fortune”, almost at the same time as ”Tipperary” was damaged, was sunk by the concentrated gunfire of three or four German heavy ships, and not long afterwards H.M.S. ”Ardent”, her sister ship, chummy ship, [often, two ships in the same squadron or flotilla would establish close social and/or working relationships, one with the other, and each would refer to the other as ‘our chummy ship’] and subdivisional mate, was also sunk by gunfire. Of “Ardent’s” crew there were only two survivors, one of whom the Captain, was rescued by the “Marksman”. Of “Fortune’s” crew of about eighty officers and men, only two raft loads of men were saved, these also by the “Marksman”. Other destroyers of the flotilla, the “Garland”, the “Porpoise”, the “Contest”,, the “Ambuscade”, and others were sharers in much of the fighting, and had other adventures which have not been mentioned here. But more extracts would detract from the interest of the narratives given n the following chapters – “Broke’s”, “Garland’s”, “Spitfire’s”, “Sparrowhawk’s”, “Tipperary’s”, Marksman’s” and “Ardent’s”. They are printed in the order named, and narrate the adventures which fell to the lot of “Tipperary’s” Flotilla.
Narrative of the Navigating Officer of H.M.S. “Broke”.
Half-flotilla Leader of “Tipperary’s” Flotilla.[The author was Lieutenant Charles E. Hotham, who received the D.S.C. for his part in the actions at Jutland. He went on to become a Captain, and was Captain of the Fleet, in the Mediterranean Fleet, at the outbreak of World War II. “Broke” was “Goblin” – see pp. 177-8 of ‘Sea Warfare’.]
From 6.15 p.m. onwards the 4th Flotilla, placed during the battle fleet action on the disengaged side of the battleline had been steaming at full speed endeavouring to reach a position ahead of the battle fleet, but the continuous alterations of the battle line towards the enemy had prevented the desired position being reached. Our disappointment at not being able to get into a favourable position during the day action was very great, but somehow we all felt that our time would come after dark.
About 9 p.m., just as it was getting dark, we at last succeeded in getting ahead of King George V, the leading battleship. [Some older readers may recognise the name as being that of a battleship which took part in World War II – they were not the same ship. It had become a tradition to name the first capital ship completed in a monarch’s reign after that monarch – hence the KGV of World War I. She was scrapped under the provisions of the Washington Treaty in the 1920s, and it is said that the World War II battleship of the same name, completed in 1939, which ought, under the above ‘rule’, to have carried the name ‘King George VI’, was instead named ‘King George V’ at the express wish of the King, in memory of his father.] She at once informed us that the battle fleet were forming night cruising order, and ordered us to take station 5 miles astern of her, course south and speed 17 knots. All firing in the battle fleet appeared to have ceased, and there was no sign of any enemy ships. Occasional flashes of gunfire were seen on the horizon to the south-west, which we assumed to be the battle cruisers in action, but that was all.
On reaching our position 5 miles astern of King George V, the flotilla turned to south and reduced to 17 knots. Captain (D) formed the destroyers in single line ahead, Tipperary leading the 1st Half-Flotilla, with Broke in the centre of the line leading the rear four or five destroyers.
It was by this time about 9.30 p.m., and quite dark. Our chief anxiety was that we were unaware of the relative positions of any of our ships or squadrons except the battle fleet, and also we did not know the position of the enemy. From time to time flashes of gunfire were seen on the starboard bow, but it was impossible to estimate their distance, or from whom they came.
At about 9.50 a very violent explosion was seen almost right ahead, flames reaching a height of several hundred feet. For one moment the ship suddenly seemed to stop dead; hen giving a series of short heaves she went on again. On the bridge we immediately thought that we had hit some submerged obstruction, but the engine room reported that it felt like an underwater explosion; at all events, no damage was caused. [It is likely that this was a torpedo hit on the German cruiser Frauenlob, which was involved in a confused action a few miles ahead with the ships of the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron.] We wondered if the battle fleet were being attacked. All officers and men were closed up at night action stations, as it was inadvisable to fall out any guns’ crews owing to the likely proximity of the enemy. “Tipperary” Put Out of Action.
Shortly after 9.50 p.m. a ship was sighted coming up on the port quarter on a course similar to our own. After a great deal of gazing through glasses we made her out to be one of our light cruisers, and shortly afterwards Tipperary was seen to flash the challenge and get the correct answer. Owing to the darkness and mist, I noticed that her hull could not be seen more than ¾ of a mile away.
Some little time after this light cruiser had disappeared into the darkness, the outlines of three ships were made out on the starboard beam, also steering in the same direction as ourselves. As far as we could make out, they appeared to be four-funnelled light cruisers, and the Captain and I both thought that they were one of our light cruiser squadrons. Tipperary was again seen to make the challenge, but this time, to our great surprise, it was answered by the simultaneous switching on of searchlights in all three ships. It became impossible to see their outlines any longer, but Tipperary’s hull was almost at once silhouetted against the darkness getting clearer and clearer as each successive searchlight focussed itself upon her. For a moment one beam rested on us, but a second later it swung round ahead on tour unfortunate leader.
Almost simultaneously a heavy and accurate fire was directed on Tipperary. Splashes of the shells striking the water all round her could be seen, and in what appeared to be less than a minute she burst into flames. I still felt certain that these ships were our own cruisers, and so did the Captain, for without any hesitation he ordered me not to turn away and fire torpedoes until we could definitely establish that they were Germans.
Fortunately, at this moment, one stray searchlight beam from the leading ship swept aft and rested on the rear ship of her squadron. Although it was only for an instant, it was enough to recognise the ship as an enemy. The Captain at once gave the order “Carry on”, and we turned away and fired the starboard after torpedo tube, increasing to full speed immediately afterwards. The necessary directions had been passed to the torpedo tubes immediately the ships were sighted, so there was no delay in firing once their identity was established. Nearly everyone on deck declared afterwards that we scored a hit, but on the bridge we were so occupied in keeping a look-out ahead to avoid ramming any of our own destroyers, that it was ipossible to watch the course of the torpedo. At all events, the enemy almost immediately switched off all lights, and we did not see them again.
“Broke’s” Action about Midnight”.
We now found ourselves steaming at full speed into the darkness, with nothing in sight except a burning mass on the starboard quarter, which must have been the remains of the unfortunate Tipperary. The Captain accordingly ordered me to bring the ship back to the original course south and to reduce to 17 knots, the speed of the fleet, in order to have a look round and see if we could collect our destroyers again. His intention was to attempt another attack on the three enemy ships before they had time to get too far away, and we hoped that the rest of our destroyers had fired torpedoes when we had, and would, therefore, not be far off. As we turned Sparrowhawk was sighted, and took station astern of us.
Almost as soon as the ship was steadied on her course south, the hull of a large ship was sighted on the starboard bow on a more or less parallel course, but this time well before the beam and not more than half a mile away. The Captain immediately gave the order to challenge, but almost as he spoke the stranger switched on a vertical string of coloured lights, some green and some red, an unknown signal in our service.
“Starboard 20; full ahead both; starboard foremost tube fire when your sight come on; all guns – Green 40- a battleship,” and various other orders were simultaneously shouted down the various voice-pipes on the bridge, but the German had evidently been watching our movements and we were too late.
Within a few seconds of our seeing his recognition signal, he switched on a blaze of searchlights straight into our eyes, and so great was the dazzling effect that it made us fel quite helpless. Then after another interval of about a second, shells could be heard screaming over our heads, and I vaguely remember seeing splashes in the water short of us and slao hearing the sound of our 4-inch guns returning the fire of this German battleship, which we afterwards had strong reason to believe was the Westbaden. I then remember feeling the ship give a lurch to one side as a salvo hit us, and hearing the sound of broken glass and debris flying around after which the searchlights went out, and we were once more in the darkness.
“Broke” collides with “Sparrowhawk”
At this moment I became conscious of the fact that I could get no answer from the quartermaster at the wheel, so shouting to the Captain that I was going below, I jumped down on to the lower bridge. There, in the darkness, I found complete chaos. The quartermaster and the telegraphman were both killed, and the wheel and telegraphs were shattered and apparently useless. I found our midshipman had followed me down to assist, and we were both starting to strile matches to make certain that communication with the engine-room was gone, when I heard the Captaian’s voice down the pipe shouting, “Full speed astern both”.
I looked up for an instant and saw a green bow light of some other ship just ahead of us, and then with a terrific crash the ship brought up all standing, and we were hurled against the bridge screens by the force of the collision.
On picking myself up I at once saw that we had one of our own deatroyers bumping alongside, and an ugly-looking rent in her side abreast of the bridge showing where we had hit her. Steam was roaring out of our foremost boiler-rooms, and it was extremely difficult to see or hear anything. Our ship appeared to be settling by the bow, and at intervals gave unpleasant lurches from side to side, which for the moment made me feel that she might be sinking. I went down to the forecastle to try and find out the extent of or damage, and to see what had happened, and to my surprise found a strange officer standing there, who turned out to be the sub-lieutenant of the Sparrowhawk, the destroyer which we had rammed. He informed me he had been pitched on board by the force of the collision, and I found out afterwards that three of her men had had the same experience. I remember vaguely telling him I thought our ship was not much use, and that he had better go and find out if Sparrowhawk could steam, as he said he did not think she had been much hit by gunfire.
I then went in search of the Captain, and found him still on the bridge. After I had reported to him the name of the destroyer we had collided with, he ordered me to go aft and get the after steering gear connected, while he went to his sea cabin to dispose of the confidential books. Although the German battleship had ceased firing, we felt she might appear again at any moment. Getting aft was no easy job, as all the ladders were gone, and scalding steam was hissing out of the boiler rooms from a dozen different places, but the 1st lieutenant and I together succeeded in getting there after a bit of a struggle.
Here I found the engineer officer, who, having been informed by a stoker that everyone on the bridge had gone, was very pleased to see us. He had stopped the engines on his own initiative, and was extremely cheering in his news that there was no damage aft, and that, as three boilers were more or less all right, we could steam slowly for the time being.
The after bridge was then commissioned, and as we were bumping very heavily alongside the Sparrowhawk, we went astern into the darkness to clear her. It was not a moment too soon, for just as we got clear another destroyer suddenly appeared out of the darkness, and before we could give a word of warning came crashing into the Sparrowhawk’s stern. I remember recognising her as Contest by the number painted on her bows.
At the time we felt rather pleased she had arrived, even in this manner, for she would now be able to look after Sparrowhawk, for whose condition we felt some responsibility.
The Passage Home
On getting clear we steamed to the northward at slow speed, and I remember looking at my watch and seeing that it was a quarter past midnight. Although most of the forward part was flooded, the ship seemed quite seaworthy, and we speedily discovered that the bulkhead before the foremost boiler room was sound, which seemed very hope ful, and a party was thereupon sent down to shore it up. Reports from the engine-room, although a trifle gloomy at first owing to a shortage of fresh water, rapidly improved, and eventually the engineer officer said he thought we could maintain revolutions for 10 knots for a more or less indefinite time. The way in which he and his staff located the damage below and shut steam off the damaged boilers was really splendid. [The engineer officer was Engineer Lieutenant Commander Picton, who was promoted to Engineer Commander for his work in nursing the ship home.]
The wounded, some 34 in number, including the sub-lieutenant and the paymaster who were both hit in the legs by splinters, were got below, while the dead, numbering 42, were buried as soon as possible. Our surgeon at this time was badly wanted, but I am sorry to say he was among the killed. Six men were found to be missing, and their fate remained unknown to us. [Broke’s complement was 205, so she lost, in killed, wounded and missing, 40% of her ship’s company. Of the 42 dead, 29 were engine-room ratings.]
Day was now slowly breaking, and our hopes getting safely away were fast rising, but at 1.15 they sank almost to zero when we sighted two German destroyers on our starboard quarter, steaming towards us at full speed.
We had only two serviceable guns left, and both of these were aft, so we turned our stern to the enemy at once and increased speed to our utmost saf limit – about ten knots. As they closedi remember a feeling of extreme disgust and disappointment at being thus caught after having been so lucky in making our escape from the other ships.
The Germans, however, appeared to be feeling even more scared than we were, which was saying a good deal. On approaching to within about 500 or 600 yards they turned up together abreast us, and the leader opened fire with his bow gun. We replied with our starboard after gun, which was the only remaining one that would bear, and to our astonishment and joy both ships put over their helms and disappeared into the early morning mist, leaving us alone, still above water. They had scored two hits amidships, but these fortunately did little or no damage.
After this somewhat unpleasant incident no more enemy ships were sighted, and we proceeded on our slow and somewhat tedious passage to the northward, turning up to N.E. at about 8 a.m., with the idea of heading up the North Sea, keeping fairly close to the Norwegian coast in case of accidents. We decided that shaping a course direct for the Humber or any other convenient port might land us into the midst of a fleet action, in which, needless to say, we were hardly likely to be of much use, and for which we had little ambition.
The remains of some charts were found forward and spread out in the ward-room, and with the assistance of the sub’s sextant and the chronometers, which were undamaged, navigation became more or less simple.
Unfortunately our wireless gear was more or less out of action, but on one occasion during the night of 1st of June a signal was got through to the C-in-C giving our rough position and condition, but after that all efforts at wireless communication proved ineffective.
During the day (June 1st) we were able to examine the damage done to the ship, both by shell fire and by the collision with Sparrowhawk. The damage due to shell fire, considering the very short time we were under fire, was enormous. The shiop had been hit roughly a dozen times between the bow and second funnel, though abaft that she was untouched; there were indications that two hits must have been from 11-inch shell.
Several rounds burst in the coal bunkers, fortunately doing little or no damage, but one large shell exploded at the base of the foremost funnel, and this cause the damage to the foremost boilers. Another shell burst on the starboard side of the lower bridge, and it was this one that had wrecked the bridge, chart-house, and steering gear, and been the cause of our collision with Sparrowhawk. The upper bridge had practically nothing left intact on it. Bits of the magnets from inside the compass binnacles were strewn about the deck, while the range-finder, searchlights, and semaphores were all smashed to bits. How any officers and men who were on the bridge escaped, it is difficult to imagine.
Another small shell burst on the foremost mess deck, and caused a a large proportion of the casualties to our crew, and there was evidence that several men, rushing forward to escape, had avoided this shell burst, only to be immediately killed as the bows of the ship crumpled up in our collision with the Sparrowhawk
During the night of Thursday to Friday, 1st to 2nd June, the wind and sea got up considerably, and by 4 a.m. on the 2nd it was blowing so hard from the N.W, and the ship was bumping so badly, that it became evident that our bulkheads would not stand it much longer. At about midnight our foremast rolled over the side, most of the rigging having been shot away. At6 a.m. on the 2nd we were reluctantly compelled to turn round to the south-east, so as to get the sea astern, and during the whole of that day we remained thus, heading back towards Heligoland, but going dead slow so as not to close the German coast more than was absolutely necessary. Towards sunset, however, the wind and sea began to moderate, and we slowly hauled round to the westward bit by bit, like a sailing ship hauling off a lee shore, and at 8 p.m. that night decided to make for the Tyne.
At 5 p.m. on Saturday, 3rd June, land was sighted, much to everyone’s relief, and shortly afterwards we were met by some of our destroyers from Rosyth and escorted into the Tyne, where, after discharging our wounded, we were berthed alongside Bonaventure. Here we were only too pleased to accept the hospitality of a bath and a good dinner, and the sleeping accommodation which the officers of the ship kindly gave us. Narrative from the Engine-Room of H.M.S. “Broke”
At the time of the explosion, about 9.50 p.m., I was in the engine-room, and was thrown forwards and backwards several times by the shock of it, and as I did not hear any explosion, I thought we had run into a submarine, and my engine-room artificer on watch was of the same opinion. Although coming from some other ship not even in sight of us, this shock was almost as strong as when we ran into Sparrowhawk a few hours later. After this we had a fairly quiet time below intil we met the Westfalen. I was in the engine-room again then, and felt the enemy’s shells hitting us for’ard; not making much noise, but with a distinct “slap” as each shell hit the ship. We were then going full speed, and everyone in the engine-room was very cheerful, as we had no reports from the stokeholds telling of any damage. [The engine-room in these destroyers was about three-quarters of the ship’s length from the bow. Nearly half the length of the ship was taken up by the boilers – she had four funnels, which suggests four boiler-rooms.] But almost immediately after the hits we felt a great shock, and the starboard telegraph went to “Half-speed”, the port telegraph remaining at “Full”. I realised that we had hit something pretty hard, and after waiting below about half a minute went on deck to see what was happening. I found we had rammed the Sparrowhawk, and were pushing her in front of us; one of the men told me that the whole of the fore-part of the ship was carried away and all the officers killed.
I hailed Sparrowhawk to try and tell him this, but owing to the noise of the escaping steam I could get no answer, so went below, stopped the engines, and ordered steering gear to be changed over to the after position. Coming on deck again I met the 1st Lieutenant, whom I was extremely glad to see, as I did not feel very happy about navigating the ship back to England by myself. He told me the situation, and we went for’ard to examine the damage. Whilst he was shoring up the bulkheads, I examined the boiler rooms and found it necessary to shut off all except the after three boilers, with which we continued steaming.
We then plugged what holes we could and tried to get the ship clear of water, but had hardly started when three Hun destroyers passed us a few hundre yards away and opened fire. They his us a few times rather further aft this time, but luckily did no damage to the engines or after boilers, and we carried on.
Most of the casualties to the engine-room staff had occurred to those off watch who were stationed on the fore mess deck as ammunition supply and fire parties. Almost all the men in the foremost stokehold were killed, but abaft this there were practically no casualties. As usual, we had a lot of trouble with the pumping arrangements, though they had been tried on leaving Scapa, but eventually we got rid of most of the water.
The actual action lasted such a short time that there was no time to realise anything in particular, and in a destroyer one is so close to the upper deck even when below that the feeling of being fastened down hardly enters into the question. Afterwards, on the way back, my men were very cheery, and were only too ready to go below for their watches.
The next section contains the narrative of HMS Spitfire – ”Eblis” in Kipling’s account of the fighting. This section has been identified as being written by Spitfire’s First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Athelstan P. Bush.”
HMS “Spitfire” and the Night Action at Jutland
31st May to 2nd June, 1916
The night was dark, and in the Spitfire we had absolutely no idea of where the enemy were, and only a very vague idea of the position of our own ships.
The flotilla was in single line ahead, Captain “D” in the Tipperary leading, followed by Spitfire, Sparrowhawk, and some eight other destroyers, with Broke(half-flotilla leader) in the middle of the line. Our course at about 9 p.m. was south, speed 17 knots, and it was pretty evident to us that there would be something doing during the night, though we were very nervous that we might run into our own ships by mistake.
Between 9.0 and 10.0 p.m. a series of flashes and explosions were seen to the southward, and about 9.45 p.m. the sudden blood-red flame of a violent explosion was seen in the distance. The shock to the ship which followed was so great that at first we thought we had fouled some submerged object. Personally, for a moment I thought we had struck a mine, or been torpedoed.
About 10.15 p.m. the last destroyer in the line reported three vessels closing us from astern, and shortly afterwards we could distinguish them as what appeared to be three four-funnelled cruisers steaming at high speed on our starboard quarter, course about south-west-by south, which was nearly parallel to our course but closing in about 20° [this last phrase has to be incorrect. The enemy ships are on their starboard quarter: the British are steering south (in modern terms, 180°), the enemy is steering S.W. by S (in modern terms, 214°): the enemy were therefore on a diverging course. From the rest of the text it seems likely that he meant that the enemy course was S.E. by S, much more likely, since the Germans were making for home.] Occasional flames from their funnels were seen, but their identity could not be established. As they kept closing us and Tipperary did not challenge, we concluded that they must be British, but when they were in to, I should think, 500 to 700 yards’ range and nearly abeam of us, Tipperary made the challenge. The reply was all three ships switching on one blaze of searchlights. The majority of these lights were trained on Tipperary, and only a few stray beams lit on us and our next astern. Then these lghts immediately went out, and after an extraordinarily short pause were switched on again, and at the same moment a regular rain of shell was concentrated o our unfortunate leader, and in less than a minute she was hit and badly on fire forward.
We immediately opened fire, and at the same time the Captain turned the ship away to bring the after torpedo tube to bear. We fired a torpedo, then waited until, much to our joy and relief, it was seen to get the second enemy’s ship between the after funnel and the mainmast, and she seemed to stop firing, heel over, and all her lights went out; but instead of the violent explosion we expected to see there appeared a kind of dull red glow, and then the fire seemed to spread forward and aft from where she was hit. It struck me as exactly like a large set piece at a firework display; the fuse being lit, and the fire spreading along from one firework to the next all along the frame. .
By this time we had been hit several times. The after guns’ crew and the torpedo party were suffering the most casualties, but the latter luckily not until they had fired our second torpedo, from the foremost tube at the leading enemy ship, apparently their flagship. I believe however it passed ahead of her. Our helm was put hard a starboard, and we increased to full speed with the idea of hauling out of line to reload our torpedo tube with the remaining spare torpedo, which was kept on the upper deck. But at that moment we were hit by a salvo, and, as a friend in the next ship astern said to me afterwards, “You seemed to disappear with a salvo hitting you amidships, one great sheet of flame”. I think, personally, that this was the salvo which hit us by No. 2 funnel, as afterwards a large shell hole was found through the base of this funnel, probably made by an 8-inch shell which had scraped the top of the boiler and gone out the port side. The after gun had been carrying on a rapid fire during the turn and after we were hit, but as it appeared to b e drawing the enemy’s fire on us and was of little use, it was ordered to cease fire, and we were instantly left alone by the enemy. But they must have kept us under close observation, for a few minutes later we momentarily switched on our recognition and steaming lights for fear we might be closing another British flotilla on our port beam, and as we did so a salvo was hurled ar us, which, although short, was good shooting for direction.
German Cruiser tries to ram “Spitfire”
We now eased down and surveyed the general situation, taking the opportunity to order the after tube to be reloaded with the spare torpedo. But this proved to be impossible as the torpedo davit was broken up, the winch wires were splintered, and the majority of the torpedo ratings were wounded or killed. With the exception of these men and the after guns’ crew, our casualties up to now were extremely small considering that we had been under the fire of big ships, at point-blank range, for several minutes, which shows how difficult it is to hit a destroyer at night unless concentrated fire is brought to bear on her the moment she is seen. But as we were now unable to fire torpedoes, the Captain decided to return to the Tipperary, to see if we could help her in any way, and if necessary we could carry on action with our guns.
We closed the Tipperary, now a mass of burning wreckage and looking a very sad sight indeed. At a distance her bridge, wheelhouse, and charthouse appeared to be one sheet of flame, giving one the impression of a burning house, and so bright was the light from this part that it seemed to obliterate one’s vision of the remainder of the ship and the sea round about, except that part close to her which was all lit up, reflecting the flames. As we neared the Tipperary, we saw a German cruiser hovering near. Suddenly the Captain realised that she had seen us, and was trying to ram us. She was coming at us full speed across our port bow. The Captain ordered, “Hard-a-starboard: full speed ahead both”, and, leaning over the bridge screen, shouted, “Clear the foc’sle”. It wasn’t a minute too soon, as with a most awful crash the two ships met end on, we steaming almost 27 knots, she steaming not les than 10 knots (perhaps 20 or more). You can imagine how the ?-inch plates of a destroyer would feel such a blow. I can recollect a fearful crash, then being hurled across the deck, and feeling the Spitfire rolling over to starboard as no sea ever made her roll. As we bumped, the enemy opened fire with their foc’sle guns, though luckily they could not depress them enough to hit us, but the blast of the guns literally cleared everything before it. Our foremast came tumbling down, our for’ard searchlight found its way from its platform above the fore bridge down to the deck, and the foremost funnel was blown back till it rested neatly between the two foremost ventilation cowls, like the hinging funnels of a penny river steamboat. The enemy, probably it was the cruiser Elbing that blew herself up at dawn next day [later research showed that it was the battleship Nassau] surged down our port side, clearing everything before her; the boats came crashing down and even the davits were torn out of their sockets, and all the time she was firing her guns just over our heads. But none of her shells hit us, except two fired from her foc’sle guns just before the ramming, which passed through the canvas screens round the bridge. The Captain was standing on the bridge, but bent down, whether or not with an object I don’t know, and the shell passed across the top of his head taking his cap with it, and left only a skin-deep though nasty wound. With the exception of the Captain, the coxswain, and one seaman, who later on were all extricated with much difficulty from the wreckage, everybody on the bridge was killed by these two shells. Eventually the cruiser passed down the length of us, cleared us astern and disappeared, leaving us still afloat, but drifting and in a somewhat pitiful condition.
Luck now turned against us as fires started breaking out forward, and to make matters worse, all the lights were short-circuited, so that anyone going up to the bridge received strong electric shocks. Moreover, all the bells in the ship were ringing, which made things feel rather creepy.
It was extraordinary the way fire spread, burning strongly in places where one thought there was hardly anything inflammable, such as on the fore-bridge and the decks, but flags, signal halliards, and the cocoanut matting on the deck all caught fire, and sparks from the latter were flying about everywhere. We thought the light would be sure to draw some of the enemy’s fire on us, but fortunately it didn’t. There was a large hole in the base of the second funnel through which flames were pouring out, and every single hose pipe in the ship seemed to be cut by splinters and useless. One got rather a nasty shock by walking one moment on a small fountain from the fire main and the next minute stepping on something smouldering or burning. The Downton pump (fire pump) had been sent hurling into the air, and had landed on top of the unfortunate chief stoker, but he was got out and the doctor attended to his injuries.
We rigged a voice pipe down to the engine-room from the compass aft, and for about half an hour steered by that. The doctor, a young surgeon probationer, did some fine work during this time. His chief success was amputating, single-handed and without any anaesthetic, an able seaman’s leg, who with the coxswain was found lying amongst the wreckage on the bridge. While he was performing this operation the fire party were busy all round him with their fire hose. It was marvellous the way this young doctor moved about, eventually getting all the wounded into the ward-room and cabins, and he never left them or took any rest himself until we arrived in harbour 36 hours later.
The accrual damage to the bows and ship’s side was considerable. About 60 odd feet from our stem aft along the port side had been torn away, and in exchange the enemy had left 20 feet of her upper deck inside our mess deck. From examination of this it was decided that it was her foc’sle, as such anchor gear as cat davit blocks, cat pendant, etc., were found left behind. (There was considerably less than 20 feet by the time it was landed, as on arrival in harbour a party of men with chisels and hammers came on board to collect mementoes.) The fact that the high foc’sle of a cruiser should be as low as the mess deck of a destroyer, indicated the fact that she must have been down by the bows when she rammed us. Along our side were indentations as far aft as the mainmast, but there was not much damage abaft the foc’sle. The mast was lying in three parts on the port side of the upper deck amidst a debris of wires, flags and matting, and twisted and broken stanchions.
After an inspection of the engine-rooms and boiler-rooms, the engineers decided that the good ship was capable of steaming with three out of the four boilers, and up till now the bulkheads were holding all right, so the after steering position was connected up, we shaped course west, speed 6 knots, and all began to feel happier. To our joy the Captain suddenly turned up, alive though rather knocked about, as he had been blown off the bridge on to the upper deck, a distance of about 24 feet. Also the Sub-Lieutenant, who was the last to leave the fo’csle before the crash and who had been thrown off the fo’csle on to the upper deck, re-appeared and so too did the Gunner. All the confidential books were destroyed, and we held a council of war as to our next movements. The Return to Harbour
The remains of a chart were patched together, and we came to the conclusion that, being of no further use as a destroyer, we had best steer to the westward at the utmost speed the bulkheads would stand – about 6 knots.
As we had no signalmen left, likewise no signalling lamps, we had to prepare to use an ordinary electric torch for replying to a challenge should this be necessary. Wireless, of course, was out of the question as the mast had gone, and we could get no result with the secondary aerial and set that was rigged up. Mess tables, collision mats, and shores, were used to try and fill up the gaping bows, but they were all washed inboard agin time after time, as the wind and sea were now fast rising.
By dawn, June 1st, the sea had risen a good deal, and the wind was still freshening from the north-west, and at about 8.0 a.m. we had to turn the ship head to sea and ease down. All store=rooms, shell-rooms, and lower mess-decks being flooded, we began to get very anxious whether the fore boiler-room bulkhead would stand the strain. At dawn, the Captain ordered a tot of rum to be served up all round, and I must say that cheered the men up no end. Luckily the galley was not damaged, and we all got some food, the men in there, and the officers in the after canopy round the wheel.
We held a very impressive funeral service for the seven men who had been killed. In accordance with the custom of the Service, they were lashed up in their hammocks, with a practice projectile at their head and feet, and laid on the quarterdeck. Volunteers acted as bearewrs, and the Captain read the funeral service. The colours under which they had fought were half-masted, and we lowered their bodies as reverently as we could into the deep; there was a big sea running. Then we turned to and cleared up the ship.
Two gun crews were organised and kept manned in case of meeting anyone, but except for one Norwegian merchant ship, which realised we were in a bad way and offered to take us off, we met no one. We refused the Norwegian’s offer, but made use of him to assist our navigation by shaping course along the track he had left, which we assumed would oead us to some port or other.
In the dog watches the sea got up and the wind increased so considerably that we had to turn north to keep the sea on our quarter. We organised a complete but rather “Harry Tate” signalling outfit. It consisted of bearing out spars lashed on to what remained of the bridge, and several flags cut up so as to make the flags we might urgently require, principally those for the “challenges” for the next twenty-four hours.
Our hopes of getting home fell during that night (June 1st-2nd) as the weather gradually became worse and worse, and about 1.0 a.m. we decided that the only thing to do was to fir distress signals, estimating that we were about 60 miles from the English, or it might be Scottish, coast.
As we were on the point of doing his, at about 2.0 a.m. (June 2nd) suddenly – it seemed like a miracle – the wind died down, and the sea got smoother and smoother, until at 4.30 a.m. we turned to west-south-west and increased speed to about ten knots. As the morning drew on we met a patrol drifter, which informed us we were 22 miles E.N.E. of the Tyne. After making a such a land fall as this, we came to the conclusion that the best aids to navigation are a torn chart, a book-case batten as a ruler, and the wake of the last met merchant ship as sailing directions! From then onwards I lost all idea of time, but we steamed into the Tyne with every single flag hoisted that we could think of as a means of recognition, being frightened of the War Signal Station, and not being able to reply to her searchlight challenges.
We berthed at Jarrow by HMS Bonaventure, whose officers and men showed us the greatest kindness. They sent over a party to tidy up the ship, and our entire ship’s company went over to her for baths and a good square meal. We were very glad of both.
The next section contains the narrative of HMS Sparrowhawk (‘Shaitan’ in Kipling’s account of the fighting). It was written by Sparrowhawk’s sub lieutenant, Sub Lieutenant Percy F.P. Wood, Royal Navy, from notes written immediately after the action.
The Adventures of HMS “Sparrowhawk”
Action about 11.30 or 11.45 p.m., in which “Tipperary” is damaged
At about 10 p.m. violent gunfire was seen and heard on our starboard bow, which we concluded must be our second Battle Squadron firing on enemy torpedo craft, and we prepared to deal with the enemy if opportunity offered. We distinctly saw three ships on fire during this action, the fires lasting for about 10 minutes, and the whole action for about 25 minutes.
About half an hour later there passed us 9 or 10 destroyers, which closely resembled our Yarrow-built boats, and as we had no idea of where any of our squadrons were except the 2nd B.S., we concluded that these destroyers must be some of our own craft, so we took no steps to engage them. Probably however they were enmy, for a little later we intercepted a signal made from Ardent and others to Tipperary, reporting they had had torpedoes fired at them. This was annoying, as we felt we had lost an opportunity.
Until about 11.45 p.m. no further incident occurred, but then we sighted three ships on our starboard beam, steering approximately the same course as ourselves, but steaming a little faster, and we reported these ships to Captain D., informing him that at least one of the three was a three-funnelled light cruiser. He replied that he thought them to be our 1st Light Cruiser Squadron – three-funnelled ships of the Galatea class. Our Captain, however, was suspicious that they were enemy, and he ordered both torpedo tubes to be trained on the starboard beam ready for action, for the ships, whatever they were, were only about a mile away, and easy torpedo targets.
They slowly crept up past us, and when the leading ship was abreast of Tipperary, Captain D. challenged her. Immediately all three ships switched on their searchlights and absolutely simultaneously opened a very heavy fire upon Tipperary and Spitfire, both of which had been picked up in the searchlight beams. A shell from the first salvo hit Tipperary, apparently on the bridge, and a huge shower of sparks and flames shot up, absolutely enveloping the ship from our sight. Spitfire also disappeared in a the ship in a cloud of smoke and spray, and we never saw her again. She was our “chummy” ship, so we were rather worried about her safety. We also were picked up by the enemy’s searchlights, but were not hit by gunfire, although shells were falling all round us.
The glare of the searchlights was absolutely blinding and on the bridge we could see nothing clearly; but we turned away to port, fired one torpedo, and then managed to get clear of the enemy’s searchlight. Just after we fired, one of the enemy’s ships accidentally switchd his lights round on to one of his own ships, and we were able to identify her as a battleship of the Nassau class, an early dreadnought; at the same moment a huge column of flame shot up amidships, and we knew that at least one torpedo had done its job.
A few minutes later our Torpedo Gunner came on the bridge to report to the Captain that he had fired a torpedo, that he had observed its track, and that he felt sure it had hit as he had timed the run with a stop watch, and the explosion in the enemy ship had occurred at the moment he had expected.
Collision with H.M.S. “Broke”
The enemy had by now switched off all his searchlights, and the only ship to be seen was some 3 miles away on our starboard quarter, which was burning fiercely, and must be we knew either the Tipperary or the Spitfire. Sounds of gunfire were coming from her, and when we had recovered our sight in a respite from the glare of the German searchlights, we eased speed and turned to close this burning vessel, thinking we might find some German destroyers hanging round her.
But when we had only gone about a mile when we sighted the Broke, still hale and hearty, and we were ordered to take station astern of her. We reduced to 17 knots and turned to south, the course of the fleet for the night, relieved to find ourselves in company with another ship, for a single destroyer steaming about by herself after a fleet action is likely to be treated with equal disfavour by friend and foe, and sunk on sight. About now, we were joined by others of our flotilla, Contest, Ardent, and Fortune, and I think, two or three others.
At about 12.15 a string of coloured lights suddenly appeared right ahead of Broke, and I remember saying to my Captain, “My God, sir, there are those devils again!”.
The lights were kept on for three seconds, then a blaze if searchlights was switched on to us from it seemed every direction, and from so close a range that they seemed to come from almost directly above us.
[The text contains a small diagram here: the British were heading south, ‘down the page’, like the stem of an upside-down ‘T’; while the Germans were crossing the ‘T’, from left to right of the page, at a range of no more than half a mile.]
At the same instant gunfire from apparently every direction burst out at us. The noise was terrific; the smell and fumes of bursting shell were simply choking, and to add to it all there was the blinding glare of searchlights wherever one looked. Speed was at once increased to full, about 28 knots, the helm was put hard over to bring Sparrowhawk round to port, and orders were passed to fire the remaining torpedo.
Broke, ahead of us, had also put her helm over to steer out to port away from the enemy, but just as we were both turning I saw Broke hit by a salvo forward, and, to my horror, when she should have eased her helm and steadied on course to fire a torpedo as we were doing, I saw that she was still swinging very quickly to port as if her helm was jammed hard over, and was coming round straight for us.
We were only half a cable (100 yards) apart, and I saw that a collision was inevitable; there was no time to avoid it. So, in addition to the enemy’s gunfire which was straddling us with every salvo, we saw Broke coming straight for our bridge, absolutely end on, at 28 knots. I remember shouting a warning to everybody in hearing to hold on, and cried out to the fo’csle gun’s crew to clear off the fo’csle. Then I leant over the bridge and watched Broke’s bow coming absolutely dead straight for us. I really don’t know why, but it was a fascinating sight; I clean forgot about the Germans and their gunfire. Just as she hit us I remember shouting out “Now!” and then nothing more until I found myself lying on the fo’csle, not of our ship, but of the Broke, illuminated in a bright light, but in a sort of fog which must have been due to the clouds of steam escaping from burst pipes. I sort of felt myself to see if arms and legs were all there, and then tried to stand up. My right leg hurt abominably, and I couldn’t get any sort of movement into my right arm, but otherwise I was all right, and eventually I got up, though only to fall again owing to the deck being so extraordinarily slippery. I understood later why, but at the time it did not worry me.
The whole of Broke’s fo’csle was an absolute shambles, but I crawled along until I found a place where I could stand up. There was a perishing noise going on all the time, as the Germans were still endeavouring to sink the ship, and I could not see the Sparrowhawk owing to the clouds of escaping steam. As I was getting to my feet I met a fellow who said, “Who the hell are you?” I told him that I was the sub-lieutenant of the Sparrowhawk, and added that the Sparrowhawk had sunk, and that I was going to report to the Captain of the Broke to ask for a job. He told me that the Captain was on the remains of the bridge, and disappeared.
I eventually found a ladder up to the bridge and went up, picling my way over the wreckage of the lower bridge, and found the Captain, whom I knew slightly, and reported myself to him. He didn’t seem to have realised that it was the Sparrowhawk he had rammed until I informed hi of it. He told me to go back to my Captain and tell him that he had given orders for the crew of the Broke to be transferred to the Sparrowhawk, because Broke was sinking, and I was also to ask for Sparrowhawk’s engines to be worked so as to endeavour to get the two ships apart, as they were now locked together and straining badly. I informed him that I was unable to see any sign of the Sparrowhawk, but he pointed her out to me, and I went to carry out his orders.
About this time, the enemy ceased firing and switched off their searchlights, probably because the clouds of steam issuing from Broke and Sparrowhawk hid them from sight.
I had to jump across a gap pfabout 6 feet from one ship to the other, and owing to me leg I didn’t succeed in clearing it, but luckily caught the lower rail of Sparrowhawk with my left aem, and hung there with my body between the two ships. I holloaed out and somebody heard me and hauled me aboard.
I found my Captain and gave him the message from the Captain of the Broke. His remarks were, “But that’s a pity, Sub, because I’ve sent across precisely the same message to him. This ship is sinking fast!”
The orders for the men to cross had actually been given, and about 20 of our ship’s company went into Broke and about 15 men from Broke came across into us.
By this time the escaping steam had been got under control and the appalling noise stopped, and by means of megaphones the two Captains were able to communicate, the engines were worked, and the two ships drew apart with a sickening rending and crunching of steel plates. It was rather aan anxious moment as we separated, for it was questionable whether the water-tight bulkhead would not be torn away as the ships parted, and if it did we would sink. However, it was all right. Broke then disappeared stern first into the darkness, and we were left alone – not in a very healthy condition.
I was feeling at this period excessively cold, so as soon as I had nothing to do I went aft to my cabin to pr on some more clothes. Much to my surprise when I got aft I found that we had no stern left, and was informed that Contest, shortly after our collision with Broke, had crashed into our stern, and cut it off absolutely clean for a distance of about 15 feet.
I then went forward to inspect th damage at that end, and found that the charthouse and bridge had gone over the side, together with the mast and foremost funnel, and the whole forward part from the foremost funnel to the stem was merely hanging on to the ship by one small steel plate, and was pointing out at right angles to the ship on our port side.
We then heard gunfire, and shortly afterwards two enemy destroyers passed us ahead, steaming faxt, but made no attack. I distinctly saw these two ships, as I happened to be right forward at the time, but apparently very few other men saw them.
The bulkheads were now being shored up, as hopes were entertained of moving the ship, but my Captain instructed me to burn all the confidential books and documents in the bouler furnaces, which was quite a pleasing job as the night was bitterly cold. It had started to blow, and I could at least keep warm at this job.
About 2 a.m. being on deck again, I saw, together with most of the ship’s company, a German destroyer come slowly up to us until, when about 100 yards off us, she stopped, and we prepared for one final scrap with her, with the one gun and one torpedo that were left in action.
Most of the officers and men were grouped round the after gun. In the hope of saving the ship, orders were given that the gun was not to fire until the enemy opened fire, and being determined to get some of our own back, the Captain took gun-layer, the 1st lieutenant was the trainer, and I was to look after the spotting. The gunner stood by with his last torpedo. The rest of the gun’s crew was completed by various seamen, and those left without a job were ordered to lie down along the upper deck. We loaded, and waited for flashes of gunfire from the German destroyer. But none came, and suddenly, just in the same way as she had appeared, she started her engines again, gathered way, and disappeared into the darkness – why we never discovered.
All this time Tipperaryhad been burning fiercely, much to our discomfiture as at times the flames lit us up distinctly, and we must have been visible for miles around. Just after the enemy destroyer had gone, Tipperarysank.
Now we had nothing to do. We could not steam, as the Contest in her collision with us had jammed our rudder hard over, and no matter how we worked the engines we could not do anything except steam round in circles at dead slow speed, stern first. The engineers tried to cut through the bolts holding the rudder to the ship so as o drop the rudder off, but without success, and we were unable to make headway. Our wireless was, of course, altogether out of action, but one of our operators, a boy aged only 16½, worked very hard to produce a small temporary installation, but could not get it to go. However, it was a very good effort, and deserved success.
Daylight, June 1st
Nothing more happened till about 3.30 a.m., when it began to get light. We had spent the rest of the night keeping warm and cheering each other up.
A large shape, which we knew was a big ship, then moved up out of the mist. We just prayed that it was one of our own. Every man on board was straining his eyes to try and make her out, and some officers were using glasses as well. Our feelings, when we saw that she was one of the latest class of German light cruisers, may perhaps be imagined. Fellows went about whispering that this must be the end of all things, and asked each other what it was like to be dead, etc. We had all been a bit worried by all the night show, and it was very early on a cold windy morning, so perhaps our feelings may be excused.
As yet the German cruiser could not see us, so we got as much ammunition as possible up from the after magazine and piled it round the after gun, for we jolly well meant, if we had to go to take as many Germans with us as possible. Again the Captain ordered us not to be the first to open fire, as it was always hoped that some of our ships would arrive to help us to get our ship back to harbour. So we waited; just waited for the flashes of her guns and – thought.
I had some spotting glasses [binoculars used for spotting the fall of shot around a target, so that corrections for range and line could be made to the gun sights] , and as it got light I tried hard to see men on her upper deck for she was only about a mile and a half away, and after a short time it had become really light. I thought she started to heel over to one side slightly. Then everyone noticed it, until there was actually no mistaking it. She settled down forward, very slowly, and then quietly stood on her head, and – sank. We had seemed to be absolutely done, there had seemed to be no hope whatever, and then this happened; you can imagine what we felt like.
“It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary”
The next incident occurred at 6.10 a.m., when someone reported a submarine in sight, and once more the after gun was manned at the run. Luckily the 1st lieutenant with his glasses made out the supposed submarine to be a carley life-saving raft full of men, for though they were only about half a mile away, the sea was so confused that we could only catch a glimpse of them now and then.
They saw us and put up a sheet as a sail. We tried to work the engines to steam towards them, but without much success. As they managed to paddle nearer we heard them singing “It’s a long, long way to Tipperary”, so we knew who they were, and incidentally jolly well agreed with them. It was a long way!
After about an hour and a half they finally manage to get alongside, but 16 out of the 23 collapsed. We managed to get them all on board with the exception of three who were already dead, but five more died on our quarter deck. [These figures do not quite tally with the recollection of the Tipperary’s sub lieutenant whose account follows – he said that there were 30 on the raft of whom 2 were dead, and 4 died on board. The notes here written by the sub lieutenant of the Sparrowhawk were written much nearer the time, and so may be assumed to be more accurate.]
The rest amongst whom was one officer, the sub-lieutenant of the Tipperary, we dosed with brandy, and they soon recovered. They were all tremendously pleased to have reached something more substantial than their carley raft at last, but we thought that it was a case of “out of the frying pan into the fire”. I remember the most cheery man of the lot was a fellow who had a hole quite as large as a half-crown right through one of his legs, but it didn’t seem to worry him in the least. They told us that in the early morning a German lifeboat had passed them full of men, and that they had hailed them and asked to be taken on board, but they had been told to go to h-l. We presumed these Huns to have been part of the crew of the German cruiser that we had just seen sink, abandoning their ship.
About 6. 45 a.m. a four-funnelled light cruiser appeared on the horizon and made the private signal to us, but we were unable to reply, having nothing in the world to do so with. We could not distinguish until she challenged whether she was English or German, because it was too misty, and the German light cruisers are very similar to ours, so the after gun was again manned. When she made the challenge we realised that she was English, but hoped that she would not open fire because we were unable to reply to it. She did not, but instead she steamed away and left us, perhaps because about half a mile away from us our bows were floating bottom up – they had dropped off earlier in the morning – and she may have mistaken them for the conning tower of a submarine. Whatever was the reason we were not reticent in voiucing our opinions, for every moment the wind was blowing harder and the sea getting rougher, and our ship looked like sinking.
A Dutch trawler then appeared about two miles away, and we waved every available sheet, cloth or coat, to attract her attention, for we badly wanted her to stand by us, but she took no notice. Whether she saw us or not I do not know, but she passed on out of sight; we cursed her good and proper.
About 7.15 a.m. three columns of smoke appeared over the horizon, and soon afterwards three vessels came into view, which we quickly recognised to be English destroyers with a flotilla leader, the Marksman. They were steaming straight for us, and the Marksman made the challenge. By this time, somebody had been over the side and managed to get, from one of the signal lockers floating alongside, three flags which would make Sparrowhawk’s distinguishing number, and these we hoisted at the mainmast.: H flag, 61 pendants. They served their purpose, and Marksman increased to full speed and came up alongside. He Captain ordered all our engine-room ratings to leave the ship in case we sank whilst being taken in tow, and informed my Captain that he intended to tow the remains of Sparrowhawk back to harbour, if she’d stand it, which was of course exactly what we all wanted. So we made fast two 3½-inch wires round the pedestal of the after gun, and then everybody was ordered to abandon the ship in case any of the bulkheads should give way.
Marksman then started to tow, having reported to the Commander-in-Chief that she had found the remains of Sparrowhawk and had taken off survivors. But after having towed the ship for about half a mile at three knots, both hawsers parted, one after the other in quick succession, owing to the state of the sea. At the same time signals were received by Marksman of the close proximity of enemy submarines. So a signal was made to the C-in-C that the efforts to tow had proved useless, and instructions were asked for. The C-in-C replied that the wreck was to be sunk and the survivors brought to Scapa Flow. Eighteen lyddite shells were then fired into the ship until she sank, the fore part going down first, and H flag, and 61 pendants, and our colours, still flying from the mainmast. Thus was the end of the Sparrowhawk.
The officers and ship’s company of the Marksman were most extraordinarily kind to us, giving us all that we wanted, and they told us many details of the action, of which we had seen so little.
We arrived at Scapa Flow on the Saturday morning, June 3rd, were sent to various depot ships, and finally sent south on the Monday morning.
The final section of “Fighting at Jutland” is entitled “Narrative of a Survivor of H.M.S. “Tipperary”. It will be remembered that Kipling gave the Tipperary the name of “Gehenna”.
The description of the night of the 31st May to 1st June in the Tipperary, or afloat on her raft, is written nearly four years later, partly from memory and partly from a brief account I wrote shortly after the action.
The Tipperary was a large destroyer, which originally had been built for the Chilians, but was taken over by our Admiralty in 1914 before she was completed. [They were requisitioned, but paid for in full. Also similarly taken over was the super-dreadnought Almirante Latorre, which served throughout the war as HMS Canada and which was returned to Chile afterwards.] She was commissioned exactly a year before Jutland, on 1st June 1915, but most of that year she spent in dock as the result of two accidents. The first mishap was a bump with one of our submarines off Harwich when a huge rent was torn in her side, and within a few weeks of coming out of dock after that, while leaving Harwich Harbour on a dark night in a strong tideway, she went ashore to avoid collision with a light cruiser. She was then in dock again until the beginning of May 1916, when we joined the Grand Fleet.
Her armament was more powerful than the average destroyer’s, consisting of three 4-inch guns on the foc’sle and three 4-inch right aft, and a pair of torpedo tubes on either beam amidships. My station, as sub-lieutenant of the ship was on a small platform aft outside the auxiliary wireless office, in charge of the three after guns, but the only communication I had with the bridge was the one gun-control voice pipe, through which all control orders had to pass. I thus had little chance of finding out what was going on at any time, except what I could see myself.
On the night of 31st May, I knew that the remainder of the flotilla were in a single line astern of us, and, as far as I could understand, we were steaming south at 17 knots, stationed 5 miles astern of our battle squadron, with another flotilla stationed on either beam steering the same course and speed as ourselves. We were of course all closed up at our action stations, as it was by this time quite dark.
Some short time after 11 p.m. – I remember the rough time, as I had just previously asked the time of the petty officer telegraphist in the W/T office – I saw some ships off our starboard beam steaming in the same direction as ourselves. I reported this to the bridge, and receiving no reply, presumed that they were known to be friends. Again a little later I saw the slight glare on the smoke above the funnels of a ship on the starboard beam, but again got no information from the bridge.
At about 11.45 I suddenly saw and heard a salvo of guns fired from some ship or ships to starboard at extremely short range. They were so close that I remember the guns seemed to be firing from some appreciable height above us. At almost the same instant the Tipperary shook violently from the impact of being hit by shells. (I was told afterwards that the first salvo hit the bridge, and it must have killed Captain (D) and nearly everyone there.)
I opened fire with the after guns as soon as the enemy opened on us. Proper spotting was out of the question, but crouching behind the canvas screen of my control position (I felt much safer with this thin weather screen between me and the enemy guns, though it wouldn’t have kept out a spent rifle bullet) I yelled at the guns to fire. I don’t think they heard me, but they opened fire all right. During this time both our starboard torpedo tubes were fired, but the enemy were so close that I think the initial dive which torpedoes usually take as they enter the water made them go under the enemy ships. The enemy’s second salvo hit and burst one of our main steam pipes, and the after part of the ship was enveloped in a cloud of steam, through which I could see nothing. Losing all their steam, the turbines were brought to a standstill, and we dropped astern out of the action.
The three ships of the enemy that were firing at us could not have fired more than four salvoes before they gave us up as done for, and the whole thing had happened so suddenly and was over so quickly that I think we were all quite dazed. Aft we had been hit by only three shells, and only a few of the gun crews were wounded, but when the steam cleared away we found that the majority of the men stationed amidships were killed or wounded, including those ratings who had come up from the engine-room and stokeholds, while forward the ship was on fire, with flames coming out of the forward coal bunkers, and the bridge alight and an absolute wreck. The only two survivors that I saw afterwards of the people stationed forward were the first lieutenant, who was in the crow’s nest up the foremast and in some miraculous way, in spite of the mast having been shot down, arrived aft, shaken but still alive; and the surgeon probationer, who came aft wounded in the leg.
For about two hours the ship floated in this condition, during which time we employed ourselves getting the wounded aft on to the quarter deck and covering them with the officers’ bedding from the cabins, and in putting out two small fires which commenced aft. We also collected all the confidential books, and placed those not already in steel chests into weighted ammunition boxes, ready to throw overboard in an emergency.
The patience and courage of the wounded was wonderful. On one of my expeditions forward, when I was passing a half-completed little sheet-iron structure which we had been building as an office, I heard a voice say, “Do you think you could get me out of this, sir?” I collected three men, and from the wreck of this shanty we lifted out and carried aft a stoker, badly wounded and apparently paralysed, but quite cheerful. He directed the operation of being got out himself.
At another time, our L.T.O. (leading torpedo man), who was doing his best to administer first-aid, called me over an asked, “What can I do with this, sir?” showing me a man with a large portion of his thigh missing. I merely covered the wound up with a large piece of cotton wool and put a blanket over him. “Feels a lot better already, sir,” said the wounded man.
We could not cope with the fire forward, it being impossible to get along the upper deck, as the ready supply of ammunition for the forward guns was exploding box by box at short intervals. All the boats were completely smashed, but two life-saving floats which were undamaged were got into the water and kept alongside ready. We threw everything that could possibly catch fire overboard, in the hopes of stopping the fire spreading aft, and I think we got rid of far more things than was necessary, even throwing overboard the upper deck supply of ammunition by the after guns, and the two port torpedoes. Perhaps we did it more to keep ourselves employed and our minds from thinking of the forward magazine than with any idea of being useful.
“Tipperary” Sinks, about 2 a.m.
At one time during these two hours some ship opened fire on us for a short time, but luckily she did not hit us. Also two small craft, which we took to be enemy destroyers, closed us, asked us who we were, and disappeared again into the dark.
Shortly before 2 a.m. the 1st lieutenant noticed that the ship was going and gave the order, “Everybody aft.” The ship heeled slightly to starboard, then the bows gradually went under. The 1st lieutenant ordered “Everyone for themselves” and we clambered over the side into the sea.
The small carley float had already left, and I have never heard of it being seen again. Those who were lucky enough to be in time, got on to the large carley float, the remainder just jumped into the sea. By the time I go to the rails the stern of the ship was well up in the air and the propellers were well out of the water, so I slid down a rope on to the port propeller, and thence into the sea.
Unlike most people, I had kept my sea boots on during the last two hours, thinking that I should have plenty of time to take them off when the moment came, but this I quite forgot to do, and I found myself in the water with my sea boots still on, and only two breaths of air in my life-saving waistcoat.
However, I found no difficulty in kicking the boots off, and the waistcoat was very comfortable for swimming. I started off trying to get clear of the ship, as I was afraid of being sucked down by eddies, but could make no headway for some time, probably because I was trying to swim to windward, and it was not until I swam around the stern of the Tipperary and pointed down to leeward that I got any distance from her. I heard a commotion behind me, and looking over my shoulder saw the last of the stern just disappearing, so I swam hard for a bit.
I now found myself some distance from the thirty-odd other swimmers – amongst whom I noticed Peter, our 1st lieutenant’s white-haired terrier – with the carley raft further to leeward. As I had little hope of being picked up, I swam slowly away from the others, preferring to drown by myself rather than with a crowd.
After swimming about for what I suppose was an hour, I saw two German boats passing, and soon afterwards heard our men on the raft hailing them. I swam towards the raft, think that there might now be a possibility of being saved. As a matter of fact, the German passed by without taking any notice. The cold of the water had sort of number my brain, and now I had only one idea left – to reach the raft, and I eventually reached it. It was overcrowded, but they pulled me up on to it, an engine-room artificer on one side of me and a red-haired marine on the other side, and I had room to sit right on the edge. The raft, supporting about 30 men, was about a foot under water – it’s a hollow, copper, oval-shaped affair, with life-lines and things to hang on by – and as the night drew on a swell go up and the seas washed up and down over our middles,, like the waves when one first wades out bathing, only much colder. We sang various popular songs, but I suppose because I had got colder swimming about than the others who had been on the raft all the time, I could not think of the words, and my music was all of one note.
When at last daylight gradually appeared we made out the shape of a small ship, apparently steaming round and round in circles. We were now all in a dull comatose condition, in which one didn’t care whether one lived or died; so much so that, although the destroyer was only a hundred yards from us, it was very difficult to get anyone to use the paddles and get there. When the men on one side paddled, the other side stopped, and we simply spun round in a circle. At last an ingenious petty officer, standing up on the board in the centre of the raft, held up a counterpane, and we sort of made sail towards the Sparrowhawk – for so we found the ship to be. Eventually we reached her about 5 a.m. and were hauled on board, and though her stern was cut off and her bows were also nearly off just by the bridge, she was Paradise itself to us compared to the carley raft.
Of the original 32 men who had been on the raft (I think there had been 32) 2 had died and dropped off during the night, and 4 were found to be dead when we reached Sparrowhawk. Soon after we arrived on board, the bows of the dropped off and floated away, but eventually a destroyer-leader – the Marksman –appeared, and after trying to tow the Sparrowhawk and finding it impossible, took the crew and ourselves on board her, and sank what was left of the Sparrowhawk. We returned in the Marksman to Scapa Flow.
The only other survivors of the Tipperary of which I have heard, except those picked up with me from the raft, were the Surgeon and I think two ratings, picked up by one of the German boats. They were taken to Holland in a Dutch trawler.